The Infinity ∞ Files, An Omni-Genre Campaign

The Infinity Gaming System is an omni-genre system, it supports playing in the fantasy, cyberpunk, and pulp genres, as well as many others. The setting construction rules (see Chapter 10, “Building Better Worlds”) allow for defining how each individual setting works in terms of Development Ratings (Tech, Social, Magic, Spirit, Psi) as well as Setting Rules, which customize the game’s mechanics to more closely emulate the desired genre.

The Infinity Files is an omni-genre campaign. It is designed is to make available many different settings, many different genres, all in one game. You can play in any genre, or be from any genre, all at the same time. A party can have a wizard from a fantasy world, a pulp super, a cybered gladiator, and a Federal agent from our world, all adventuring together.

All adventuring together in another Reality. Hunting insane cultists attempting to summon the avatar of a Dark God (for example). Sailing on an ethership to the giant Aether maelstrom in the middle of the chunks of the destroyed fifth planet between Mars and Jupiter. Or taking sides in a battle between Greek and Trojan demigods outside the walls of Troy.

In The Infinity Files, you can adventure on any one of an infinite number of worlds. (Including the other Infinity Gaming System settings.) The mechanics of the game make this possible.

Infinity Files Adventures

The Infinity Files is designed as an episodic campaign. (In TV terms, it would be a “Weirdness of the Week” show, like Supernatural or X-Files.) The default adventure template is:

A portal opens (beginning an incursion), weird stuff happens, the PC’s find out and investigate.

This basic formula can be expanded: Someone else was sent first, that team was eliminated. The players investigate.

It can be averted: What was thought to be an incursion, wasn’t. Instead it was LSD in the water.

It can even be subverted: Our world is leaking into another. The PC’s meet a team from that other world.

It can revolve around an incursion that happened in 1960, 60 AD, or 660 BC, or will happen tomorrow, next month, or next year.

But in each case the game revolves around portals, alternate Realities, and the ensuing incursions.

[Continued in Part III.]

The Infinity ∞ Files

There are a few settings I’m building for use with Infinity:

  • Dead Man’s Land, where you are the zombie.
  • Altered States, (now) an alt-history urban fantasy technothriller (spies + techno-magic, in an alternate Earth).
  • Age of Legends, an urban fantasy superhero setting where the fallen Powers of an ancient age of wonders fight to regain their former glory.
  • And Storm Knights, my variant Torg campaign setting.

But what about the game itself? Is there a default setting, one that showcases the system and allows for all the coolness built in? (Magic + miracles + psionics + weird tech + …)

Yes. The setting is called The Infinity Files.

There are Earths beyond imagining, all different. Magic works in some, gods walk the Earth in others, and in many superheroes are real.

There are natural portals that exist between these worlds, portals that you can use to travel from Earth to Earth, assuming you can find the way. These portals allow the natural laws of one Earth to bleed over into another.

On our world, when a portal opens, magic may suddenly become real. Or wushu martial arts may become possible. Or maltheistic Divinities from beyond space and time may start to whisper to the weak and insane, speaking of dark rituals that will end the world…

Then, when the portal closes, all this goes away.

Throughout history, portals have opened across the face of our world. Beings and monsters from alien places have crossed over, and wreaked immeasurable havoc. And from the time the first portals opened, there were those who fought to protect our world.

Solitary madmen, small cults obsessed with other times and other places, and obscure government agencies and their coldly ruthless operatives — all have investigated the portals, fought against the horrors they brought, and even crossed into the worlds beyond. They have gone by many names, existed in many cultures, and most have ended badly, their cadre destroyed while fighting just one more incursion from another world. These are our protectors.

Here, in the modern world of 2013, the primary organization of protectors is a firm called Infinity, Incorporated. A joint government-industrial endeavor, Infinity, Inc. has records going back to prehistory, files and artifacts that speak of other Earths and their incursions, including files and artifacts from alien Earths.

Calling on the vast store of knowledge contained in these files, Infinity, Inc. dispatches agents all over the globe, to investigate portals and attempt to close them. Lately, this has become a monumental task.

More portals are opening up than ever, and to worlds no portal has previously touched. Dark worlds. Alien worlds. Worlds that can hardly be said to be Earths at all.

Our protectors are failing. The portals are opening wider, threatening to spill a tide of alien realities across the planet. And with the portals torn wide open, armies from other worlds can emerge to conquer our Earth.

You are agents of Infinity, Inc. The world stands on the brink. To save it, you must tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge located within The Infinity Files.

[Continued in Part II.]

Remixing RPG’s

On one of the forums I frequent, there’s been some discussion about Ron Edward’s “Fantasy Heartbreaker” essay. What I took away from the essay is not what the author intended. But it is valuable. In my own words:

When designing a game or setting, strive to be conscious of your influences. Likely you have inherited a set of assumptions from prior experiences; don’t let your assumptions rule everything.

Look beyond your usual taste boundaries. If you want to write Epic Fantasy, familiarize yourself with Leonard Elmore and Tom Clancy, not just J.R.R. Tolkien.

If you want to write an RPG, don’t start from one system (D&D, Storyteller, whatever). Read and play many different systems, and see which ones have elements you like.

Everything is a remix, including all truly great art. Shakespeare used other people’s stories, pretty much exclusively. Borrowing has a noble tradition.

Just be aware of what you’re borrowing, and do so for a reason. Don’t take elements from one game “just because”.

Examine your assumptions, and especially examine all the mechanics in your game. Justify each on its own merits, not because it existed in a predecessor system. Your work will be much improved thereby.

Not what the author said, but that’s what I take away. And, in the form I’ve presented it, it’s pretty good advice.

Appendix N: Television Series

[Influences on the game.]

Television Series

Supernatural, Seasons 1-5 in particular. (A deeply personal story of a family of monster hunters. Reached its apex in Season 5. The subsequent seasons have been disappointing.)

Chuck. (Excellent series about a geek super spy, marred by a sucker-punch ending.)

Breaking Bad. (Part of the new Golden Age of Television. Movies have bigger budgets and bigger names, but few are as consistently compelling as this show.)

Firefly.

Revolution.

Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. (One of the best.)

The Walking Dead.

House, MD. (The biggest jerk in medicine, but so much fun to watch.)

Buy now at Amazon.
Support the site: Buy now at Amazon.com.

Cinematic Indulgences: A Sentient Pile of Poo

Schlock Mercenary, a webcomic written by Provo-ite Howard Taylor, is a comic space opera that satirizes the military, government, lawyers, intelligence agencies, boy bands, and… well, pretty much everything else under the sun(s) (ours and others). The protagonist is Sergeant Schlock, a “carbosilicate amorph”, who only accidentally resembles a sentient pile of poo.

Schlock serves with Tagon’s Toughs, a band of mercenaries who travel about in a starship taking very simple contracts and having them go wrong in very spectacular ways. At last reckoning, they provoked an intergalactic war with dark matter entities, overthrew a conspiracy that predated human history by 6 million years, and literally blew up the galaxy. (Well, caused it to be blown up.)

Of course, they also got paid. A lot. Like 5 times for one job a lot. This makes the mercs very happy. Their targets (and sometimes their employers), not so much.

A gag-a-day strip, it updates with a merciless, robotic frequency: once a day, like clockwork, since going “on-the-air” in 2000. It’s humor is as reliable. Take a couple of mottos from “The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries” (sort of a bible for the Toughs):

6. If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it.
12. A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.
25. If the damage you do is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, you didn’t do enough damage.

Yeah, it’s like that. Once a day. Every day. For 12 and 1/2 years, and counting.

There’s a free app for iOS and Android, which gives you access to the entire archives. (Also available on the web, for free. Stupid Movie Physics, are you paying attention?) It also allows you to bookmark favorite strips, keeps your place in case you commit an archive binge, and allows you to browse the Schlock forums, all in the same app.

One warning for would-be bingers: at first, the art is… well, pretty terrible. It continually improves, however, and has become quite nice in recent years. Start with a later story, is my advice, so you can see how good the strip is. (Like The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, one of the best of the (currently) 12 books.)

Only then go back and read from the beginning. It’s well worth the effort.

Healing & Resolve

Healing

A full day of rest allows a character to recover (not heal, but recover) a number of Wounds equal to their Endurance. It also allows them to heal one Moderate Injury (assuming they currently have no Wounds).

(Yes, you can have more than one of the same severity Injury at a time. You can have bruised ribs, a sprained ankle, and burned hands all at once, all of which are Moderate Injuries.)

An additional week of rest allows you to heal a Severe Injury. And a week of treatment (convalescing in a hospital, for example) allows you to heal a Critical Injury. (If the campaign world lacks the means of treating a specific kind of Critical Injury, the character will be injured permanently.)

After an hour’s rest, a character can spend a point of Resolve to gain a Wound recovery: they recover a number of Wounds equal to their Endurance. This represents them gritting their teeth, and fighting through the pain. They can do this once per day.

Analysis

What are the benefits of this approach? It streamlines the Damage Chart, making it much simpler to keep track of Damage and the penalties therefrom. It solves the “ablative hit points” problem, making Resolve into something more meaningful. It also makes spending a Resolve point on Wounds something significant: you recover a number of Wounds equal to your Endurance, not just 3.

It makes combat more risky, increasing the tension of fighting. But after combat is over, you can rest and recover. That’s a positive dynamic.

It also deals with the “shoot me in the head, I don’t care” problem that cropped up under Torg. After playing the game for a while, my players realized that they were nearly invincible, by the rules as written. They could be shot in the head, while handcuffed in front of an enemy, and survive. After that point, combat offered little challenge and no danger. A player literally told me “let him shoot me in the head, it doesn’t matter”. That’s a problem.

This rule allows for characters who recover quickly (quite cinematic), but who still have to fear being shot. Combat is (potentially) deadly, so players have to be canny, take cover, use tactics, and behave intelligently.

This also solves John’s “Why would you spend Action Points on anything but buying off damage?” question. Under these rules, you can’t. You can recover after a battle, but not during.

In all, it seems like a great approach. On to playtesting.