My Sunday game has reached the level threshold where my PCs are starting to really get powerful (the party is currently level 9) and that means I can trot out some of the bigger, meaner threats I have waiting in the wings. In fact, I’ve already started; the PCs are going to kick off the next session with a fight against the first such adversary they’ll have faced. They literally opened the door to the room it was in just as time ran out.
The problem is, I don’t quite have everything I wanted to have for this part of the campaign.
If you go back to the “fitting it all together” posts I wrote (here and here) you’ll see a list of stuff I was planning to use that I’m still waiting on. I don’t have Arcana of the Ancients yet, and Blades and Blasters didn’t turn out to be what I was hoping it’d be, so for the material I’d expected would be from there, I’ve been using Dark Matter and waiting for World of Alessia to finish up release.
Still, I wanted to start introducing some of the science fantasy elements anyway, so I decided to try something a little crazy: I pulled out my copy of Jade Colossus (which has the Numenera Ruin Mapping Engine in it) and did a randomized dungeon. I figured I’d do my best to wing it with anything mechanical that came up (or if something was way beyond what would be reasonable, I could always just reroll) but as it turns out, it didn’t cause any problems at all, despite the fact that 5e and the Cypher System (which Numenera runs on) are two extremely different systems.
And by the way – that’s not down to any wizardry on my part at all, it’s just that that descriptions are system-agnostic. This is one of those self-evident “duh” things that I should have been more cognizant of before, but so much of GMing is literally just describing things and a lot of the time, especially for a system like D&D, there’s generally very little in the way of mechanics to interact with unless the PCs want to fight with or smash something. That isn’t to say there’s nothing for them to do, however. In the aforementioned dungeon, the room that the PCs spent the most time in was literally just on the table as “Metallic pod turns solids to liquids.” There’s no mechanical detail for that in Numenera, 5e, or any other system, so it was literally down to description.
And yet the PCs were fascinated by that pod. If someone else wants to use it for their game the same way I had it in mine, I made it about the size of a bathtub, egg-shaped, and firmly attached to the floor. The pod was lined with a strange greenish-yellow metal. Anything solid all placed into it immediately turned to liquid and slowly mixed with the other liquid in the pod. There was a control panel which extended a clear cover over it and also could open or close a drain in the bottom. Anything scooped out of the pod immediately reverted back to a solid form, albeit still mixed with whatever else was in there (they used mage hand for this, which was clever, because any scooping object they’d have reached in with would have liquidized) and unless you got it out quickly it completely lost its shape. After someone drained it, I let them find vials filled with the slurry of various liquidized things in another room. I had no idea what practical application this device would have until I’d thought about it for a while after the session concluded, at which point I got several ideas. (3D printing from unusual materials was the first thing that came to mind. You run tubes from the liquidizing chamber to a 3D printer and as soon as the material is out of the nozzle, it hardens back into whatever it used to be. You can also use the special vials that are lined with the same greenish-yellow metal and load the printer from those.)
But that chamber could have easy been a standard smelter or even just a device that melted ice for liquid water in an arctic facility.
Okay, so what’s the take-away here? Well, for me it was to get over concerns about mixing resources from multiple systems. There is a lot in gaming books that is surprisingly system-portable and doesn’t need actual rules to function. The second is that as much as I love my crunch, if you don’t have it and want to use something you saw in some other game, you’re unlikely to unbalance your game as long as it stays as setting texture.
But I think the biggest take-away is that I think a lot of the time we as GMs underestimate the value of something weird and cool that PCs can screw around with. The liquidizing machine didn’t really have any purpose in the game – how could it? It was randomized into there, and I didn’t know it’d be in the dungeon until I rolled a 47 on the table it was included in. But if I’m going to point at anything I did right, it was just letting them play with it and have fun and not showing them out of the room with a fight or malfunction or something. If you’ve made something (whether it was your original idea or not) that your PCs have fixated on in a way the players seem to be enjoying, let them have their fun.