The Weave – A setting for the Cypher System

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.

Setting overview:
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.

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Deadlands, poker and Python

Today I’m managing to combine multiple interests into one post; roleplaying, maths and programming. I’ve written a program that simulates poker hands, which I will post further down, but first a little background.

For the non-roleplayers; Deadlands Reloaded is a roleplaying game that is set in the Weird West and one of the mechanics involves drawing cards and attempting to make the best poker hand possible. The number of cards drawn increases as your character gains experience; a very experienced character, who has taken all the relevant advances (and is dead… don’t ask), can be drawing 14 cards to try and make a five card poker hand. Obviously, at any level, it’s good to have some idea of how likely you are to make a particular hand, given your number of cards.

For the non-mathematicians; these odds are actually pretty hard to calculate. The probabilities of getting each hand with just five cards are well known; anyone with a solid grasp of probability can grind out the numbers. However if you’re drawing a lot more cards, this is very difficult. For example, calculating the odds of getting two pairs from 12 cards is reasonably easy, but you’ve got to subtract the odds that you also have a straight (because that would override the two pair). Even that is not as simple as calculating the odds of a straight; specifically you’ve got to calculate the odds of getting a straight in a hand that also has two pairs. I’m sure this is not technically impossible, but it’s a lot of hassle, particularly as you have to do it separately for every hand size… and then add wildcard jokers on top.

So, at this point, the mathematician part of my brain switched off and the statistical programmer part of my brain switched on. I might not be able to calculate the exact odds, but simulating a few thousand hands would give me a pretty reasonable idea.
Now, it should be noted that, while I’ve been intending to learn Python for years, I’ve only actually been learning it for a couple of weeks. This program involved a lot of Googling and is probably not as efficient as it could be. However, I’m pretty confident that it at least works correctly (though if anyone spots any weird edge cases with the jokers, do let me know).
The program below (Dropbox link, as I can’t embed it here directly), when submitted, will ask for three pieces of information:
1) The number of hands you want to simulate – I’ve been running about 10,000 at a time, as that seems like a good balance between run time and statistical robustness.
2) The number of cards to draw – it suggests 5-14, as that is the maximum number a Deadlands character will realistically draw, but you can enter 54 and get a royal flush every time if you really want.
3) Whether the red joker is allowed – high level characters in Deadlands can use the red joker as a wildcard without blowing themselves up… and not blowing up is always preferable.

Feel free to use this program in whatever way you want, though if you post it anywhere else online, do me the courtesy of crediting me.
If any more experienced Python programmers want to suggest code improvements, I’m all ears. In particular, does anyone know if I really need to make the variables global to pass them from function to function? It seems inelegant, but I couldn’t get it to work otherwise.

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Alexa, write me a blog post

I have had an Amazon Dot for around six months now, which I think is enough time to jot down a few thoughts on how it’s performing.

I went for the Dot, rather than the Echo, because I personally thought that the extra cost of the Echo was not worth it, purely for a built in speaker. I’m sure it’s handy if you’re short on plug sockets or space, but I’ve had the Dot plugged into some cheap speakers and had no issues with the setup at all.

First, let me be clear that the Echo has not revolutionised my life. There is nothing that it does, that I could not have done through other means. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s useless and I do appreciate some of its functions.

Timers – One of Alexa’s most trivial functions, but it’s the one I use most. Our Dot is in the kitchen and it is very convenient to be able to just say, “Alexa, set a timer for ten minutes.”

Music – I have Amazon Prime, so Alexa can tap into my music library pretty easily. Fundamentally, it’s no better than just plugging my iPhone in, with the Amazon Music app, but the voice controls are convenient.

Shopping list – Again trivial, but saying, “Alexa, add baking powder to my shopping list,” is fairly convenient when baking.

Weather – Alexa is not bad with her weather predictions and saves finding my phone, just to see what the day will be like.

These are the only functions that I use with any regularity, but I’d argue that it was just about worth the price for these various conveniences. I know that it also integrates with certain smart home devices and such like – someone who could make use of those functions might get even more from it.

It should be noted that the Dot is not without its faults. Despite the fancy sounding microphone array, it does occasionally fail to pick up your commands. My wife has more trouble than me with this, which I think is down to our commands styles; she calls to it like a child (“Alexa?”), while I tend to shout at it like a dog (“Alexa!”)
The voice recognition is pretty decent most of the time; it has most trouble with music, when requesting unusual artist names and such like, which is perhaps to be expected.

Overall, I’m pretty happy that I got it – it’s not ludicrously expensive and it’s a fun little gadget. Right now, as already stated, it is not doing anything revolutionary. However, I suspect that this could be the first step towards a futuristic automated home and I, for one, would like to ease into our new home-controlling overlords.

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Roleplaying in one hour sessions

Recently, I have been running roleplaying sessions for some of my work colleagues, who had never played before and fancied giving it a try. We’re too spread out to easily run an evening session, so I decided to experiment with one-hour lunchtime sessions. These proved to be reasonably successful, but they do require some slight adjustments to work smoothly. Here are some tips that worked well for me.

Structured sessions:
In order to feel like each session accomplished something, I had a much more rigid idea of how I wanted things to pan out than I might have for a longer session. To have a good balance of gameplay, I aimed each session to have 25 minutes of roleplaying/exploration, 30 minutes of combat and 5 minutes of wrap up, and I would move things on pretty decisively, to hit my schedule.
This does start to drift towards the bad practice of railroading and certainly, with a group of more experienced roleplayers, you might not need to be quite so proscriptive. If your players are happy to have some sessions where they do nothing but talk to a couple of NPCs, that’s fine. However, for complete newbies, the structure meant that they came away from each session feeling like something had happened.

Structured plots:
In addition to the structured sessions, I had fairly tightly focussed plots. I typically wrote my adventures as two-parters; the first session would end in a cliffhanger, while the second session would resolve things.
Again, this did lead to a little more railroading than would normally be approved of, but it kept my newbie roleplayers invested while they found their feet.

Keep up the pace:
One hour might sound like a reasonable amount of time, but it goes very quickly; you can’t afford anything that is going to waste play time for no purpose. During the more roleplaying/exploration part of the session, I would accept any vaguely reasonable idea from my players and if it was a really good idea, I might not even make them roll for it.
During combat, I played reasonably fast and loose with the rules (fortunately, we were playing a fairly rules-light system) and generally called the combat before the last enemy was out of the fight, so as not to spend a lot of time on mop up. Again, with more experienced players who don’t mind that sometimes a session might literally be a single fight, from beginning to end, you could play things out a bit more fully or use a more crunchy system.

Overall, my lunchtime roleplaying has been a reasonable success. It definitely has a different feel to a more traditional roleplaying session, but we’ve successfully run through plotlines, had hilarious moments of roleplaying and large, if truncated, combats. Highly recommended for anyone with the desire, but not the time, to roleplay.

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The Sun is Our Enemy – A very short RPG adventure

Due to time constraints, it’s just a quick post today. This is a slightly ludicrous idea that popped into my head for a roleplaying campaign – either a single session or as an ongoing plot thread.

This would work best in a sci-fi RPG, preferably after some sort of apocalyptic event or civilisation collapse, though any sufficient timespan into the future would work.

The PCs encounter a doomsday cult that is obsessed with blowing up the sun. This could be a serious threat if they have the legitimate ability to do so or played for comedy if it is a thoroughly unrealistic goal.

Through investigation, the PCs discover that the plan to kill the sun comes from when the order was first founded, hundreds or even thousands of years previously. If the setting has time travel and such like, the PCs could actually travel into the past to discover the origins of the cult; if not, then ancient video documents could be uncovered or something similar.

The grand reveal is then that the cult was accidentally started when a ginger father taught his ginger children to hate and fear the sun and told them that it was their enemy. Thousands of years warped this message into a more literal interpretation, which the future cult intends to follow through on.

[Author’s note: This campaign is in no way autobiographical and this post does not constitute a confession to being ginger.]

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When is a dad joke not a dad joke? When it’s a jar… wait, that’s not right.

For Christmas, I received a set of dad jokes on cards, which was an approprirate enough present, except that 90% of them weren’t dad jokes, they were merely bad jokes.
Now, I accept there is probably no universal definition of “dad joke”… no one has ever started a father-of-the-bride speech with the line, “Webster’s dictionary defines ‘Dad Joke’ as…” (disappointingly I have no daughters or I would happily be the first). However, I do feel that a true dad joke is more than simply a groan-worthy joke… such things are Cracker Jokes at best (a subject for another time).

Let me present a couple of examples from my set:

“What did the mountain climber name his son?”
This is not a dad joke. Anyone could tell this joke; indeed, I used to tell such jokes myself as a child, in my pre-fatherhood days. QED, not a dad joke.

“I’m reading a book on the history of glue… can’t put it down.”
This is approaching a dad joke, primarily in how it is told. This joke could easily be re-written in the third person (“Did you hear about the man who was reading…”) and wouldn’t then qualify, but told in the first person, it does contain the crucial element of the dad joke, in my opinion, which is that the recipient doesn’t necessarily realise it’s a joke at the start. Slipped into natural conversion, it’s not impossible that I’m genuinely reading a book on the history of glue… it’s only at the punch line, that the child realises they’ve been had.

“I’m hungry.”
“Hello Hungry, I’m Dad.”
This is the quintessential dad joke, to the point that many online comics (SMBC in particular) use it as the default. This is an example of the purest form of dad joke, where the child actually provides the setup line. In an ideal world, the setup line should be delivered in absolute earnest, after which the father should pause just long enough, maybe with the first glimmer of a maniacal grin, for the child to realise the mistake they’ve made, at which point he can deliver the punchline and bask in the horror on his child’s face.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my wife says I’ve got to go and make the bed… which is weird because I didn’t notice her go to IKEA.

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Business card advent calendar – A project for 2017

I have had an idea for a homemade advent calendar, made out of folded business cards. In this post, I will present the outlines of my plan; a future post will show something closer to the finished item, once work on it is mostly complete (in time for Christmas 2017, I hope).

First, let me start with basic principles. It is possible to fold six business cards together into a relatively stable cube.

Six more business cards can be attached to the outside to make it a little more attractive.

The cubes can also be attached together, by interlocking the flaps.

This video provides a decent demostration of the techniques for making the cubes and attaching them together.

Previously, I’ve used these cubes to make myself a Menger sponge.

An explanation of this, along with some quite interesting maths (if you’re into that sort of thing), can be found in this video by Matt Parker.

So, onto the advent calendar.
It is fairly simple to cut a hole in one side of the cube, like this:

I did this with a craft knife. I’m sure it could be done with scissors, but you would need to be cautious not to bend the business card too much.
Structurally, the hole doesn’t seem to have any ill effect, as long as the cards are reasonably thick. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve also shortened the flaps on the front slightly, to avoid them covering the hole. Again, this doesn’t appear to be causing any problems.

The plan is to interlock twenty four of these cubes into a 6×4 rectangle. I will use more business cards to clad the back and sides, just to make it look better. For the front, I will cover the holes, using the same technique as the back and sides, but I will do it with paper, with each cover having a number printed on it. (I plan to use paper because I’m assuming it will be easier to remove each morning, without damaging the rest of the calendar.)

At this point, I am slightly torn between putting a couple of chocolates in each cube (easy, but I’m not sure if the weight will affect structural intergrity) or constructing a little Christmas scene in each cube (much more time consuming, but would be awesome when finished).

Assuming no accidents, this will require 188 business cards for the cubes and the cladding, plus paper for the front. I bought blank business cards in packs of 100, so I do have a few spare for emergencies. You could equally cut sheets of card to the correct size – this would be cheaper, but needs to be done with reasonable precision if the cubes are going to fit together nicely.

I will update once the first few cubes are in place… watch this space.

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