Updated our Journal (29): Cliffs Notes
TL;DR: Sagus Cliffs Lore, adapting tabletop rules for CRPG gameplay, web developer position at inXile
Thomas here. I hope that Spring is breaking on all of our Tormented backers, much as I hope it will break for Colin soon so he can finally be free of the Land Of Eternal Winter – as he likes to describe it. It's an exciting time for us; not only is the Torment pre-production making great progress, we have steadily expanded our ranks as well (more news for you on this very soon). On top of that, we will soon be meeting again at inXile's offices, with Adam flying in from Thailand, Colin from the Land That Knows No Sun this April and me coming in from the Netherlands. We have figured out how to work well together over the internet, and it has been a pretty seamless process all things considered, but it is always nice seeing each other and talking in person.
On to the juicy bits…
Colin here, with a lore update!
(before going any further here, you might want to refresh yourself on the background of the Ninth World)
Maybe you’d like to see some of the places you’ll be exploring. Sure, you know it’s the Ninth World, and sure, you know that it’s to the far east of the Steadfast, the core part of Numenera’s setting (as revealed by Shanna in one of our updates). But what’s this place actually like?
There’s a road that travels past the Clock of Kala, Beyond the Beyond. Past marshlands polluted with the runoff of eons-old chemical processes, past broad plains where enormous aerial predators swoop upon unsuspecting caravans, a trade road connects to the territory called the Sagus Protectorate. It is here that we enter the lands you’ll explore in Torment.
The Sagus Protectorate, so named after an early settler in the area, lies between the sprawling, occasionally carnivorous Arvrin Wood to the west, the storm-swept Garravia Sound to the east, and the Verxulian Waste to the south.
Sagus Cliffs is a city built atop a cliff and winding its way down through switchbacks and cutout caverns. Lush green terraces overhang the ocean below. Some of the houses, clustered together underneath one of these dripping terraces, are little more than shanties and hovels. Some of those in the open air are strangely fluted spires, delicate works of marble and glass. The city is vast, both vertically and horizontally, built on preceding generations, and the architecture is incredibly mixed. Some of the houses are built out far over the water below, precariously holding through elaborate winches, pulleys, and wires. Some have no such support, practically hovering under their own power. But the old ways still hold – literally – sometimes clinging to the last scavenged beams on which they were originally erected, with bridges of coherent light helping to hold together the city’s economy.
At the base of the cliff, the ocean crashes and swirls around the rubble of fallen houses. The city extends downward even here…
(I’ve attached a map so you can have evidence of why I like to work with professional artists, and also so you can see the context in which you’ll be exploring Sagus Cliffs. You won’t be able to visit all those areas, but for me it’s important to know where things are so they can inform the design of the areas you can visit. For instance, you won’t be visiting Terminus, which is a) the potter’s field; b) the city dump; and c) a one-time stop for a sky-gondola line, but the people of the nearby slum of Lower Tanningstone know all about it, and its presence is reflected in their vernacular. Likewise, even if you don’t go down to Shorepickers, you’ll encounter people who do, and who’ve brought back interesting things to sell from the wreckage they find [and sometimes cause] on the beach.)
The Sagus Protectorate was once a respectable kingdom, if not quite an empire, but has shrunk to the immediate environs of its once-proud capital city, Sagus Cliffs. For hundreds of years, Sagus Cliffs has acted as a conduit for numenera between the west and the waters of Garravia Sound - travelers who wanted to use the harbor of the city of the ancients had to pay a nominal fee in numenera, shins, or labor. The city began to collect a treasury, and they used the power they accumulated to expand their borders significantly.
Two centuries ago, the city was on the verge of expanding its reach again when a slave revolt spilled from the depths of the nearby Bloom, toppling the power structures of the city and forcing a dramatic rewriting of Sagus Cliffs’s plans for the future. For nearly a hundred years, the aristocrats and the wealthy laid low, moved their money around, and pretended to be paupers along with the rest while they slowly co-opted the former slaves with money and prestige. Once the slave leaders settled into the familiar ritual of establishing place and rank, believing in the importance of law and property, the old families began to reestablish their claims. By intermarrying with the children of the former slaves, the old aristocrats seized on the new power structure, and thus returned themselves to power as the Slave Families – a cruel joke, considering that most of the actual slaves had been neatly excised from the families.
Today, Sagus Cliffs is a city of maybe 90-100,000 people. They regard themselves as the rulers of the entire Protectorate, but in practice they rule little outside their walls; the city’s leaders are more concerned with besting one another politically and socially than with maintaining the land outside their shell. They scheme and jockey for position, retaining the city's imperial pretensions and enslaving its residents to the mindset that their glory will rise again. Sagus Cliffs shows every sign of an empire in decline, with decadence the order of the day.
Three walls define the city. The first is a low plas-steel wall around the perimeter of the new city that girdles the city’s outskirts – that is, any of the part of the city that sits on the broad plain before the great walls of the interior rise up. The plain approaches the headlands of the Sagus Cliffs as a crammed and stinking slum. A variety of architectural styles are in play here, evidence of decade after decade of gentrification and the inevitable decay of the neighborhoods. Major streets are wide, suitable for marching a column of troops, while some of the side streets and alleys are barely wide enough for a single automaton-led cart to roll through. The area is grimy, like living in the shadow of a smokestack. There are manufactories large and small here, smelters and smithies, tanners and slaughterhouses. Many blocks are deserted, desolate, burned out… it has been easier to move than to rebuild in this greatly shrunken city.
The second wall is a shimmering haze, a shield against the deadly nanite storm known as the Iron Wind. It protects the old city like a curtain wall around a castle, and in times of danger the Aeon Priests in charge of its workings can harden it against other threats as well.
The third and inmost wall is older and more physical, and it marks the change between land and sea. Ancient weapons powered by armatures mounted on this wall can fire at enemies kilometers away, toward both land and sea. This is the city center, where the city’s council meets, where universities and artists build and catalog culture and learning, where the economic hub of the entire area comes into sharp focus. It is here that the wealthy dwell, looking across the storm-swept sound, plotting to advance themselves against their compatriots.
To the northeast, the alien growth called the Bloom squats, its tenebrous fibers gripping the walls of the gully through which it heaves itself by miniscule increments every year. Its reach extends into other dimensions, burrowing holes in the fabric of reality. Merchants move into these places, seeking wealth from exotic worlds to bring back to Sagus Cliffs, and stranger things move to and fro on these tendrils, slipping into our space and time from parts unknown. The Bloom is a constant reminder of the dangers of the Ninth World. The people of Sagus Cliffs regard it as a menace and a nightmare, and respectable residents of the city don’t go there if they can avoid it (though they’ll gladly accept the merchant trains that traverse its paths, and some of them go slumming for exotic drugs and experiences).
Sagus Cliffs is the primary trading hub for many hundreds of kilometers – ships sail the nearby inland sea; gyrocopters buzz the harbor; homes and buildings extend beneath the waves with a crystal dome offering protection against the water. The dome is sectional; some of it has broken and water has flooded those portions of the city. Great intakes and outflows, a vast pumping machinery, still operates after millennia, an unintended gift from the previous, vanished residents of this area. Sputtering dirigibles and small airships land outside the city’s walls. Factories are here, as well as numenera counting-houses, temples, universities, criminals, many (many!) residential neighborhoods ranging in quality from poor to ultra-wealthy, factions, cults, and more. As with any city, it has its own needs: infrastructure, sanitation, light and heat, refuse removal, protection, and more. They heave most of the city’s detritus into the nearby Bloom, trucking vast quantities of garbage into alternate dimensions.
The governmental structure of Sagus Cliffs is an aristocratically elected council, with a leader selected by the councilors. The Slave Families each send a representative to the council. These representatives choose one of their own to serve as leader of the council for a year. Other representatives on the council include: one chosen by the Memovira, the de facto ruler of the Bloom and a member each from the Sounders’ Guild (the sailors), the Bridgers’ Guild (the infrastructure and road people), the Mercantile Exchange, the Slavers’ Consortium, and a representative from the University – this latter being more frightened of the real-world power of the Slave Families and thus easily cowed by one faction or another.
The city is a morass of competing influences: economic, political, social, religious, and intellectual. The blatant corruption of the system makes cynics of all its residents. They trust few people, have mercenary hearts, and are quick to take advantage of others. Even the altruists of the city must approach their dealings with cynicism, lest they be taken advantage of by less scrupulous partners. They consider themselves cosmopolitan, able to deal well with people from all walks of life… but they fear to venture far from the city’s walls, and they are quick to judge those who venture within.
I recently opened up a spot on my blog for folks to ask me anything. I've gotten some interesting questions so far, but this one I thought might be of interest to our backers. Thomas said:
A lot of Numenera's rules seem to be designed around a push-pull between the players and the GM. Are you finding that difficult to adapt to a cRPG where the "GM" is static content that is predetermined?
I prefer the term "interesting." The folks who run the Italian Torment blog asked me some fairly in-depth questions along these very lines (you can read my answers here; scroll down for English), so I'll try not to repeat myself.
So while some tabletop RPGs are largely combat simulators—and therefore easier to adapt into a CRPG—Numenera is primarily a storytelling simulator. Combat and tactics are in there, along with rules to adjudicate every other situation, but if you're not collectively telling a story along with it, it could get boring fast.
As I've often said, that's a great thing for Torment, where the narrative is one of the most important things. And not only is Numenera's world amazing, but the Corebook is basically 400 pages of Rule Zero; we can (mostly) interpret it how we need to for our game.
Unfortunately, those interpretations are more work for me.
In general, my design philosophy has been to start with the Corebook rules and only adapt them where a CRPG needs more discrete options. Take Numenera’s Carries a Quiver focus, for example. Four of the abilities granted by that focus have to do with training in making bows and arrows. Taken at face value, that seems fine, though not necessarily suited for a CRPG. The tabletop game expects you to look beyond face value; it relies on the players' imaginations and collaboration with the gamemaster (GM) to expand "making bows and arrows" into cool things like fashioning bows and arrows out of azure steel instead of wood, or attaching some kind of phasing nodule to the bow to create a more powerful weapon. There is no limit but what the players can think of and the difficulties decided on by the GM.
In a CRPG, "face value" is all we have. If a CRPG gamer were told he had an ability that could make bows and arrows, he'd be like, "Can't I just buy those?"
So in Torment, we expand the focus for you. For example, at first tier maybe you automatically replenish arrows whenever the party rests, saving your coin for other purchases. At higher tiers, you could choose to make different kinds of arrows: piercing arrows, smoke arrows, blast arrows, etc. At the highest tier, you could even make arrows that phase through armor or replicate themselves to hit more targets. All this stuff is supported by the core rules, but making the abilities explicit like this helps the focus feel right in a CRPG.
A lot of the core rules work like this, where we're not so much changing what we get from the Corebook as we are putting all the imagination and GM collaboration up front. It is sometimes a lot of work, and we have a lot of balancing and prototyping yet to do, but we're excited about how it's shaping up.
So is it difficult? Yeah, sometimes. But the challenge is what makes it fun!
Seeking Web Developer & Adam Interviewed
While not solely related to Torment: Tides of Numenera, we wanted to point out a recent job opening we now have listed on the inXile entertainment jobs page: we are looking for an experienced web developer to craft and administer our web systems and backer databases, to improve and expand our web presence and systems. Take a look if you're interested!
As Adam mentioned, the Italian Torment blog delivered another excellent interview, this time with Design Lead Adam Heine. Asking and getting in-depth answers on topics such as foci, gear-centric advancement, XP and GM intrusions, save-scumming and combat. Well worth the read for fans of Torment: Tides of Numenera, and as usual available in both Italian and English (scroll down for English).