Design Notes: Taming the Game

[A sidebar from the rulebook.]

While reading the rules, you will notice various “Design Notes” sidebars. Each will explain the reasoning behind a different design decision. This makes it easier to understand why a mechanic exists (and how it works), and hence easier to make house rules for the game.

Infinity encourages house rules. We assume gamemasters will want to tailor the mechanics of the game to suit their own preferences, and we want you to do so. Our motto is “Your Game. Your Rules. Your Fun.

In Chapter 10, “Building Better Worlds”, we’ll discuss how to design your own setting. Part of this is choosing the genre, then tailoring the rules of the game to your genre. A supers setting should have different mechanics than a gritty noir-inspired setting, for example. This process becomes is easier when “Behind the Scenes” information is available, which is the point of these sidebars.

The “Design Notes” sidebars exist to help you tame the game, to make it your own.

The Infinity ∞ Files: Alternate Realities

What is an alternate Reality? Such worlds exist on two levels, the physical and the metaphysical.

Physically, each alternate Reality is a collection of planes or dimensions. Our universe, out to the limits of space, is one plane. It contains countless stars and many, many galaxies. If there are other planes, we don’t know of them. That’s our Reality.

An alternate Reality might have a primary plane resembling that, plus a Heaven and Hell (resembling medieval conceptions of such, ala Bosch). Or, its primary plane might be a sphere, in the center of which is a flat Earth surrounded by crystal spheres, on which planets are located, all of them (plus the sun) orbiting around the Earth on epicycles. That’s an alternate Reality: an entire separate cosmos, full of impossibility.

When it comes to alternate Realities, there are no universal constants. Even the laws of physics which hold in our universe, need not necessarily be true. Magical forces, Divine forces, even moral imperatives can be as fundamental a part of the alternate Reality as the Laws of Thermodynamics are a part of our Reality. In another Reality, Good and Evil might not be moral precepts, but forces as real as nuclear fusion, as effective, and as powerful. (These facts are not well-understood by Infinity, Inc., and though some have theorized that this is the case, these theories are not accepted outside a small community of two or three cranks.)

In any given Reality, it may be possible to travel between planes. Angels may carry souls to Heaven, warlocks may summon creatures from outside time and space, and starships may easily enter and exit hyperspace. The walls between Realities are inviolate, however.

No known spell, miracle, invention or artifact can penetrate the walls between Realities. Only the (seemingly) natural portal events can establish contact between one Reality and another.

What causes them is unknown. Why they are so variable is unknown. And why they are increasing in frequency is (most worryingly) unknown.

The Infinity ∞ Files: Selecting Realities

Realities can be anything the GM wishes. Any kind of weirdness you’ve ever encountered in a horror movie, fantasy novel, or cyberpunk video game can be brought to life and become part of the campaign. More, the campaign background enables the GM to experiment with various Realities.

GM’s can introduce any kind of Reality they wish, because if they don’t like it, the players don’t like it, or it just doesn’t work out, the portal closes and it goes away. (Conversely, if people love it, it can stick around longer.)

Sketch Realities, worlds with very little development put into them, become practical options. If they only affect one or two adventures, and then only obliquely, there’s no need to spend weeks or years carefully devising an intricate mythos.

There’s a lot of flexibility built into the campaign, and GM’s have a lot of options. This makes it very easy to plan an incursion and use one to generate an adventure.

But the adventure template is very simple: An incursion occurs. This causes problems. Players investigate. (Then kill Evil, take its stuff, and do it again next week.)

Within that template, GM’s can tweak the campaign to their heart’s desire. That’s The Infinity Files.

[Continued in Part VII.]

The Infinity ∞ Files: The Scope of an Incursion

[Continuing the discussion on designing incursions.]

The GM controls the scope. By default, The Infinity Files is a globe-spanning campaign setting. Players travel the globe, looking for current incursions or information and artifacts left behind by previous incursions. (And, occasionally, people. Or monsters.)

However, a campaign can focus only on one locale (the United States, Japan, Australia), and the portals that open there. In this kind of campaign, it’s assumed that other agencies handle incursions in other places. (The EU, for example, may have a team that’s dedicated to investigating European incursions.)

Or, if the gamemaster wishes, he can create a “strange little town” setting. This one town, for whatever reason, is a junction of portal activity. They open and close all the time, and weird things happen to the town on a regular basis. Such a burg can be any small town, even a fictional one, or a major metropolis like New York or Chicago. (Or even something like Nexus: The Infinite City.)

The incursion can be big or small. The default size is a few square blocks, but they can be bigger, encompassing a whole city, state, country, continent, or the world. They can be smaller, encompassing a single street or cul-de-sac, a building or home, or even one single person.

(That strange little street, where all the people are just a little too happy, and wandering pets seem to disappear? Perfect Infinity Files adventure.)

Portals can move. They can relocate across the country or across the planet. If the players defeat it in Manhattan, it can reappear (sometime later) in Hong Kong. Wherever the GM wishes, that’s where a portal can be.

Portals last as long as the GM wishes. Portals are, by default, temporary things. A portal can open to a specific Earth, cause an incident, then close up (on its own, or as a result of player interference). Or it can last for weeks, months, and years.

[Continued in Part VI.]

The Infinity ∞ Files: Designing Incursions

The nature of portals ensures that GM’s have total control over how incursions manifest, and thus over the exact nature of adventures in the setting. From small mysteries that only obliquely involve other Realities, to a massive, full-scale invasion from another world that’s spread across several states, converting entire regions to the intruding Reality, the nuts-and-bolts of portals allow the GM to run the game he wishes.

Each incursion is different. A portal may allow beings from another world to cross over. It may allow PC’s to enter the alien world. (And adventure there as long as they wish.) Since portals open and close all the time, the effects need only last as long as the GM desires.

Portals can be customized in other ways. The six Threat levels (see Post II) allow for a great variety of possible incursions.

At the lowest level, weird things just happen. An adventure that deals with low-level spontaneous phenomena that emanate from another Reality is possible, such as an entire town suddenly being affected by post-cognition. (Touch your spouse, and you experience what they’ve done in the past. Chaos ensues.)

Or, an artifact left over from a previous incursion suddenly goes active (a Threat-2 situation). There are myths of ancient beings who visited an area? They left behind a mysterious sculpture, carved from an unknown substance, that is supposed to be a mechanism but it does nothing. A second incursion, and it goes active, causing any one of a number of effects. Perhaps spontaneously uplifting animal species, making pets sentient. (Not to mention what happens at the local zoo.)

These kinds of incursions require far less work than a Threat-4 or higher. As the alien Reality isn’t directly involved, the GM only need devise the specific phenomena or artifact, not an entire Reality. Higher Threat incursions require more work, but are usually more spectacular.

Threat-3 situations occur when people in our world begin acting like people from another world. Imagine an entire city suddenly granted super-powers and the 4-color morality of the Comics Code. Monologuing villains, stalwart heroes, and helpless innocents. Bright costumes, dastardly plots, and battles that level whole buildings. Now, instead of “superhero comics”, substitute “fantasy world” or “cyberpunk dystopia” or even “cyber-fantasy dystopia”. (Or, really, any setting/genre the GM wishes.)

Portals allow for all of that.

[Continued in Part V.]

The Infinity ∞ Files: Portals and Incursions

The Infinity Files is based around the notion of alternate Earths, Earths where the impossible is possible. (More, the impossible is a part of everyday life.) These other Earths are therefore alternate realities, and (within Infinity, Inc.) the term Reality refers to one of these other worlds.

The main campaign setting is our world, pretty much exactly (save for the existence of portals). Its history, geography, levels of development, and so forth are all identical to the world we know.

There are (potentially) hundreds or thousands of Realities, some of which closely resemble our Earth, and others which are highly variant. (Such as Orrey Earth, where the solar system is literally spheres on wires, which orbit the sun on massive gears the size of the moon.) No one has made any concerted effort to survey the many alternate Realities, and such an endeavor may actually be impossible (as a practical matter).

Depending on the campaign, one, ten, or a score of different Realities may appear on Earth. In game terms, each is defined by its Development Ratings (Tech, Social, Magic, Spirit, Psi) and further distinguished by its Setting Rules. Setting Rules are a core part of setting design in Infinity, and in The Infinity Files each Reality has its own set. For the purposes of this campaign, they’re known as Reality Laws, as they define the laws that the alien Reality operates under.

When a portal first opens, the alien Reality begins to leak into our own, allowing the alien Development Ratings and Reality Laws to hold sway, creating a place where the impossible is now possible. Spontaneous alien phenomena begin to occur (such as flashes of psychic visions, Tarot cards actually foretelling the future, and the like). In Infinity, Inc. parlance, this is a “Threat-1” incursion.

Threat-2 incursions allow artifacts from an alien world to function. (Examples include magic swords, religious relics of dark gods, or psychic imprints.) During a Threat-3 event, people from our world begin thinking like people from the other Earth, and can begin to learn, make, and use tools from that Reality. Artifacts from alien world can cross into ours during a Threat-4 incursion, and beings from those worlds can cross over during Threat-5 events.

Threat-6 incursions are the most severe. The portal opens wide, allowing a large number of beings from that world to cross over. More, the area being encroached upon begins to change, the buildings, tools, and people of our world converting into buildings, tools, and beings appropriate to the invading Reality. Secondary portals, spun off from the primary portal, begin to move out, spreading the alien area of influence. Leading portal scientists believe that a Threat-6 incursion could quickly become permanent, eventually spreading everywhere, marking the end of our Reality. (There are many secret organizations devoted to bringing about just such an event.)

All known portals are one way, one Reality impinging on another. Infinity, Inc. is primarily concerned with portals that allow alien Realities to affect our own, but portals that allow the opposite do exist. These latter portals are unnoticeable from our end, until they’ve reached the Threat-5 stage (when people from our world can cross over). Such adventures are very different from the norm, and can make a nice change of pace.

[Continued in Part IV.]

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.]