Cybrine Dreams Update 3
Been a while because I’ve mostly been working on setting stuff. Cybrine Dreams is now to a point where the setting is 80-90% done. Given my rate of progress, now it’s just constant grinding away on the gameplay elements until they’re all good. Though, with that said, I’m really evaluating how to present lore.
The actual lore section of Cybrine Dreams is about 10k words long, which might sound like a lot but will probably work out to 10-15 pages. This is somewhat at odds with the found world narrative of Soulslikes, but I needed a foundation for the GM and players to base their campaigns on.
Right now I have one short flash-fiction piece to introduce the setting, but I plan to do at least two more, probably more like four.
One part of the worldbuilding is having a life-stage system for character creation. It lets you get a better feel for how characters fit into their societies, even though it all gets leveled out in the end because the draughtlings have a special social role. The next is having all sorts of items.
One of the cool things about items is that each can have a little snippet of flavor. A microstory, a colorful description, or a history tacked on to a simple gameplay stat is incredibly effective.
The main problem will be execution. I’m burning on two projects right now (Cybrine Dreams and Kenoma), and I intend to get Cybrine Dreams out some time early next month so that I can focus on Kenoma to have it ready for some form of access by the end of March. I also have another project planned for the weekend, though I don’t think it’ll take more than a few days by nature of what it is (plus it will be a nice vacation from my darker themes in Kenoma and Cybrine Dreams).
One thing that’s always difficult is talking about tech levels in games like this. Faith is explicitly not intelligence, but it’s used for consecrated technology. One way to think about this is that it could be the sort of warm talking linguistic intelligence versus the cold calculating mathematical intelligence you get with Blasphemy. It could also be a gameplay convention and we don’t pay any more heed to it, or it could simply be that the Cybrine Cult is so standardized with how their tech gets used that once you figure it out it all shares the same manual of arms and your Faith definitely represents how much (positive) contact with the cult your character has had.
Likewise, the tech level is absolutely crazy. The Cybrine God is a dyson sphere and a hyperintelligent AI. There’s probably some Numenera style thing going on, where the current civilization is not the first to exist even on the Cybrine God, and the relics in the junk heaps can actually go back before even that.
The important thing is that the prims are called that because they’re primitive. They’re pre-industrial at best, and sort of mediocre scavengers at worst. When they learn about technology, they learn what it does and how it’s put together, not how it works. The important skills get passed down word-of-mouth, so they’re not totally inept.
There’s something from Jung where he theorized that the ancients just plain had a different view of the world, and I’m leaning heavily into that. Machines have wills and personas in the eyes of prims, and while they don’t have deified status (with the exception perhaps of actual AIs, which definitely exist in universe), they definitely get a weird reverence from the prims (if for no other reason than the simple fact that they’re mysterious and often powerful).
Likewise, advanced metallurgy and synthetic materials are not something the prims can do anything with. They’re aware of them, of course, since they can tell the difference between various plastics and alloys, but they can’t tell you how they’re made, even if the Spectrals have the ability to produce them.
This gives some opportunity for storytelling as well, since the GM doesn’t have to worry about consistency with real-world materials. If super-advanced technology needs to do something, it can be made of whatever material is best suited for the task and any really weird properties can be hand-waved away.
The Cybrine God is sufficiently advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic.
One of the things that is a major part of Cybrine Dreams is the encounter system. We’ll have full rules for combat, exploration, and synods as example types of encounters, and GMs are welcome to use a general format and add to it as they see fit.
The Synod is a special kind of social conflict that is about using the dogma and rituals of the Cybrine Cult. It may not come up in all campaigns, and there will be a clear note about this, but it is a special format.
It’s something of a parliamentary procedure, if we wanted to draw an analogy to modern things, but since the cult is theocratic rather than democratic there’s more of a focus on adherence to tradition and the rituals involved.
The Synod has an introduce-question-resolve flow, where someone will introduce a proposition, be questioned, and then make a closing case. Because of this, it involves burning through a lot of cards, and a character cannot draw more cards during a Synod!
To compensate for this, characters can bring in Doctrines. Doctrines are like gear for the Synod, and they reflect the mastery of a particular part of the Lex Cybrine that governs the Cybrine Cult. They are purchased with money, because the legal training needed to use them in a Synod is quite expensive, but they are worth their weight in gold.
The initial goal is to introduce a proposition. This must always be a Doctrine. Some characters start with Doctrines, like Aid or Ostracism. These typically all use Faith, though there may be some others that get introduced.
This is what you’re requesting at the Synod. The GM can also have an NPC do a proposition, if the players are attempting to block an action at a Synod (for instance, shooting down an inquisitor’s attempt to execute someone for blasphemy).
This involves taking a card and setting it down to represent an application of the Doctrine. Much like weapons or armor, Doctrines can have flourish values, which impose an effect on the proposition in question rather than any particular character. Typically this is done with Faith, though there are special variants of Doctrines that involve other attributes.
Then there are rhetorical tactics. These are simple. Reactive involves spinning a quick explanation to justify a faux pas, Faith involves using Cybrine Lore to get a good presentation, and Blasphemy involves using cunning to trick another speaker into an error.
These come up during the questioning phase. You can expend as many cards as you want in order (there is initiative in questioning) until everyone is satisfied. Typically the NPCs/GM will simply raise flat challenges that need to be overcome.
It is possible to alter the proposition by introducing a different Doctrine. This is easier with a simple shift (e.g. from exile to execution), but can still involve anything. This uses Stalwart, reflecting the force of will necessary to derail the conversation, though some Doctrines can be special configurations that use other attributes.
Once all is done, it is necessary to make a final test during the resolve phase, which simply governs how effective the Synod’s effects will be. If the resolve phase is weak, the PCs may receive the opportunity to do what they want while providing their own resources, while a strong resolution involves active help from the participants in the Synod and their underlings.
Kenoma’s more no-news-to-report stuff. Just grinding out setting and character option stuff, tweaking some values as seems helpful, and keeping everything consistent as much as possible. Some minor tweaks to the Quickstart as weapon balance has changed (shotgun lost ammo), but not much otherwise.
I was hoping to have a very initial offering for Kenoma by March 1, and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with that. It’s certainly going to be quite impressive as a technical exercise by that point, but there will be more work left to do for sure to get it fully ready. The question is whether I can say “Yeah, feel free to start playing and making characters” or if it’ll still be too rough, and how rough it’ll be.
One thing that I hadn’t been thinking about is how the design for Cybrine Dreams will play out. It’s not the very simple geometric design that I’m using for Kenoma, so it’ll almost certainly take more time to do.
However, generally I think the progress is going well. I want to give some options for actually running a campaign, not just getting access to enough rules for doing so, and I think the setting in place so far does that. There are a few things I want to make a little more detailed just for the sake of making the world feel more living and giving the neglected parts a little more meat, but I think I’m ready to just go into game content as the full priority and not just as an expedient to getting my minimum viable product out.