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Torment Kickstarter Update #29: Cliffs of Decadence

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Torment Kickstarter Update #29: Cliffs of Decadence

Game News - posted by Infinitron on Thu 27 March 2014, 20:55:09

Tags: Adam Heine; Brother None; Colin McComb; InXile Entertainment; Torment: Tides of Numenera

After two months of quiet, the powers that be at inXile have seen fit to provide us with a new Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter update. This one's primarily a lore update concerning one of the game's major locations, the city of Sagus Cliffs. I think you might find that some of the details seem oddly familiar. I quote:

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.

[...] 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.
Draw your own conclusions, Codex! Besides the massive lore segment written by Colin McComb, the update also contains a short note from lead designer Adam Heine, in which he explains his approach towards adapting Numenera to CRPG form.

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!​

And that's it for this update. If that was too short for you, Adam has written more about Torment in response to various questions people have asked him on his blog.

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