Monte Cook tagged posts

One-Hour Library Review: The Cypher System Rulebook

CSR - Cover Bottom line, this book is an excellent resource for people who want an adaptable, innovative system that works for a variety of settings. It is not a collection of different ready-to-go settings and it isn't going to revolutionize your games of Numenera or The Strange. This is a solid book, though, and a really great starting point for GMs who want to use the Cypher system for their games.Read More

The Strange: People and Places


Hopefully you read the One-Hour Review of The Strange so you’re all caught up on the player side of things. If not, we’ll give you a chance to get it together. Caught up? Alright!

This time, we’re looking at things from the GM perspective: the latter parts of The Strange core book that deal with the stuff you need to run a game of The Strange. In my experience with Numenera, it’s hard with this system to get players to take on the role of “sole determiners of rolls” in the game (being the only ones rolling dice) so I’m hoping for some information included in that. Also, creatures in Numenera are often pretty focused in their abilities and maneuvers. This is great when those maneuvers are evocative and not so much when they are repetitive.

Lastly, the setting of The Strange is dominated by three worlds: Earth, Ardeyn, and Ruk. They seem cool and interesting, but I’ve been promised “Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.” I want to make sure there’s enough in these three worlds to keep my players occupied and, more importantly, that these aren’t the only kids on the block to contend with or it’ll be more Forgotten Realms than Sliders.

And with that, we’re off!

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One-Hour Library Review: The Strange

Beneath the orbits and atoms of our natural universe lies a network of dark energy. Those who have learned to access and navigate this chaotic sea have discovered an almost endless set of “recursions” in the shoals of our Earth: Worlds with their own laws of reality, reflected from human experience or imagination, given form in the swirling Chaosphere of the Strange. Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.

Worlds sometimes jealous of our own.

-From Monte Cook Games

Readers of the site might remember my review of Numenera, the first game published with the Cypher System. You might also recall that some of us here at Castles & Cooks backed the Kickstarter campaign for The Strange back in the fall of last year. All this is to say that this review will be my first hour with the book but that I know something about it already.

This game is even more of a chance for Monte Cook to show off what remains of Planescape than Numenera was. Earth in this setting is surrounded by a mysterious alien data network that can create other dimensions, and those with “the spark” are able to transfer between these dimensions (called recursions) to defend the Earth from nefarious plane-hoppers and primordial evils out to destroy it. Sound familiar?

Like Numenera, characters in The Strange are constructed with the following formula: “I am an adjective noun who verbs.” The nouns (or Character Types) in The Strange are vectors, paradoxes, and spinners rather than the glaives, nanos, and jacks of Numenera with a similar spread of specialties. Your Character Descriptor (the “adjective” part) remains with your character (so that you’re always “Clever” or “Stealthy”) but the Character Focus (the “verb” part) switches with each recursion as characters create an appropriate body for themselves that blends in with the locals and follows the recursion’s laws (some recursions have magic, some have bioengineering, etc). Your focus then changes with each jump allowing you to try new options all the time. Personally, I’m very excited to see how this plays out because it seems like such a natural fit for the Cypher System.

Alright, so that’s what I know so far. Let’s crack open this pdf and see how it ticks!

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Kickstarter Roundup: October 22 – 26

Kickstarter is quickly becoming a favorite place for us here at Castles and Cooks to mine for our next great game or piece of cooking equipment. While the risks are well established, the chance to discover something truly unique is one of the things that keeps us coming back for more. From time to time we’ll aggregate our favorite Kickstarters here and tell you why they are worth supporting.

Methodology: We do not actually back every project listed in this round-up (though we do specifically indicate those projects we have helped fund). The projects that we choose are based on several factors, but we tend to gravitate toward projects that have low risk, great value, and where there is excellent communication about the economics. It also helps for the product to just be awesome, something that we would want to play or use.

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One-Hour Library Review: Numenera

When I first started playing in D&D, I didn’t start out in a “standard” fantasy setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. I started off in the weird, nightmarish, wonderful, though-provoking realms of Planescape, traveling from the City of Doors through portals to all corners of the multiverse. Behind this remarkable setting is a man named Monte Cook who started his own company years ago and created a number of fantastic d20 products like the epic-scaled urban setting of Ptolus and the psionic adventure If Thoughts Could Kill. When Monte joined the development team for D&D Next, I was excited and eager to see what his reunion with Wizards of the Coast would yield. When he left the project suddenly and without much explanation, I was disappointed but curious what else he had planned.

That’s when I started to see teasers for Numenera. It looked strange and confusing and intriguing and bizarre. It looked like everything I loved about Planescape, and every subsequent teaser is even more interesting. Now I have the pdf in front of me and I can’t wait to delve in for my first hour with the book. Come on down the rabbit hole…

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D&D Next: Playtest Announcement and Team Shakeup

Mike Mearls dropped a surprise after-hours news release on us this evening on the D&D website when he announced that the D&D Next open playtest will begin on May 24th. Great news for D&D gamers everywhere, as we’ll finally get our hands on the game’s early draft and can see what the future holds.

It’s important to remember that this will be a quite early draft of the rules. I’m anticipating an extremely incomplete document, but if we can make a party of low-level PCs and do battle with goblins it’ll be fun to imagine what the later bits will entail. And being a playtest, it will be full of imbalance and busted rules. But the beauty of the open playtest will be that those holes are patched over by harnessing the force of nerdrage. Every D&D player who has ever gone god-hunting or sent a DM home in tears is well aware that there is nothing in the game that cannot be broken, so this phase of D&D Next will be a critical stress-test.

The joy of a playtest start date announcement is tempered, though, by the completely unexpected news that Monte Cook is leaving the design team. Is he quitting to get a headstart on writing freelance adventure modules, to have a full adventure path ready to go the day that D&D Next debuts? Sadly, that’s unlikely. We are given no specific details as to whether this is an irreconcilable creative dispute or something personal and unrelated to D&D Next. Mearls addresses the issue in a brisk but amicable fashion, then quickly moves on to the playtest news.

I hope we see more of Monte Cook, as he has been the genius behind some of my favorite D&D products, but in the meantime we can look forward to May 24th.

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Penny Arcade, Monte Cook, and the Good Old Days

The Good Old Days by viba

Poking around the internet this morning (don’t tell my boss) I found two different references to other systems than the current (fourth) edition of D&D. They’re from some different sources but they are interesting takes on the state of the game. First, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade published a little more about trying to revamp a 4e game that’s been on a year-long hiatus. After a few webcomics talking about the need to break the stereotype of “hiatus = campaign death” and talking some tough talk about using two DMs to scare the PCs into splitting their own party, he revealed their secret weapon: giving up and playing Pathfinder. Call me a pessimist, but this seems like a cheap way out. There’s a certain Robin-Hood-esque panache to turning over your Wizards of the Coast books and grabbing a semi-independent set of rules, but is this really being a solid DM or is it giving up because you can’t hack it?

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Latest Legends and Lore: Cause for Concern?

Levers of Doom

If you don’t follow the Legends and Lore articles on Wizards of the Coast (and you missed Patrick’s post a month ago), you might not be aware of two important developments for Dungeons & Dragons. The first is that Monte Cook, a name with a lot of caché among those who played AD&D the game’s second edition, is once again on the Wizards of the Coast payroll to “explore options” for the company’s R&D department and to take over the Legends and Lore series on game philosophy and meta-design. He took over the job from Mike Mearls (a name probably more familiar to younger players) and with his debut article said that there were big parts of the game that he didn’t like.

This leads to the second important development: the community is abuzz with talk of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. There has been no official word from Wizards that this is on the horizon, but from the tone of article series like Legends and Lore it seems like it could be really soon. I hope that most of our readers are familiar with this possibility and have seen other musings on it so I won’t bore you with more. If it is coming, the mission of Legends and Lore to hearken back to the game’s original core is a good idea. However, the latest article by Monte Cook leaves a lot to be desired.

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Skill the Messenger

Monte CookMonte Cook is back on Team D&D! As an RPG designer with untouchable design credentials (Planescape, Ptolus, Iron Heroes, Arcana Unearthed, co-designing D&D 3rd Edition, and launching the career of Mike Mearls), he has been brought onboard to experiment with new approaches to D&D topics. His first target is skills, but there has been a mixed reaction. Who knew 4th Edition’s skill system had such loyal defenders? I certainly didn’t. You can debate the merits of his specific proposals, but I’m overall baffled by the gamers who say Monte Cook shouldn’t try to fix the skills system because there’s nothing to fix. I’m waiting to see what comes of Cook’s tinkering, but I was hoping for a little more substance right out of the gate. Regardless I’m definitely itching for something better than 4th Edition’s core skills system.

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