Feb 062016

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of Myst and Beyond

Ancient_glyphs.jpg

Glyphs on black tablet

Unwritten, the long-awaited RPG based on the popular computer game by Cyan Inc., is the product of a November 2015 Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $36,000. It was produced with the cooperation of Cyan and includes data from the Uru MMO. The url is here: Unwritten

The Book:

I have the PDF version. The PDF is well put together with art from the Myst game as well as from other sources. An abridged version of the history of the Myst games is included to ground a GM in the game’s universe. This material is drawn from the novels and from the canon of Myst itself. The basics are: a splinter group from an ancient species of humanity from a parallel dimension with a unique understanding of dimensional physics goes into hiding beneath New Mexico. There they continue to build and refine their core cultural values. They are a society based on puzzles and plenty, and fueled by access to the multiverse via a specialized knowledge of “the Art of Writing.” This civilization flourished and then died in an act of petty tyranny at the beginning of the 19th century. Years later their caverns are rediscovered by their inheritors, modern humanity.

The System:

The system is Fate Core with some minor system tweaks. The attack actions and stress bars have been removed to de-emphasize violence because combat wasn’t the focus of the Myst games. Puzzles and discovery are the primary obstacles of Myst, and to facilitate them some interesting mechanics have been added. In particular, I found the deduction and journey mechanics most interesting. Journey mechanics are used at character milestones to represent the “off screen” work the players have been pursuing. Things like “Writing” new ages or discovering rare tech are handled using journey rules. Deduction mechanics provide setting course corrections usable by GMs to create player-established facts in the game setting. This mechanic personalizes the scenario or scene based on player character skills.

I’ve included some example Ages below. Feel free to include them in your game if you desire. I created these for a longer campaign I ran for my wife.

Example Ages:

Gilder: The Children’s Age

Aspects: [Lost Childhood], [Long Forgotten Tragedy], [Buried Guilt and Hidden Crimes]

Written as a fun and safe place for D’ni children to vacation, much like Disneyland. Gilder emphasized education, puzzle solving, and exploration, the hallmarks of D’ni culture. It was staffed by natives tasked with care of the children. Now, it is silent. The scattered remains of the ancient dead, large and small, litter the park. There were no dangers in Gilder. Gilder was written to be boringly safe from the beginning. There were friendly natives and few predators. During the Fall, many families sought to hide their children here away from harm. The majority of dead here didn’t die of the plague. They were massacred in the Hunters’ attack.

Areas of interest:

The Zoo: once filled with exotic animals from little-known Ages, these beasts have starved to death or killed each other.

The Aquarium: once beautiful with examples of brightly colored fish and rare aquatic animals. It is now a brackish, evil-smelling puddle more akin to soup.

The Library: exhibit books, dozens of linking books to small Ages fitted with observation domes to allow visitors to watch creatures in their natural habitats. One book is central and ringed by the most adult bodies yet seen. Here stands the Book of Haldis.

The Aviary: a large wrought iron bird cage. Silent now, the floor is littered with little bones.

The Park: square miles of park, now overgrown. Paths lead into and out of the village. A lake, located near the center of the park, is connected to a river. The native flora and fauna have reclaimed the park.

History:

Then there came the Hunters…

The Fall was a turbulent time. Many D’ni fringe groups saw it as a time to rise up. One such group was called the “Hunters.” They trained and worshiped in the park in secret. They interpreted the Fall as the realization of a prophecy. Their end time myth was enacted in Gilder.

The prophecy spoke of a great dying of the prey, from which would rise an apex predator. This predator would rule as cities were devoured by a return to nature once all foreign influences were expunged.

They attacked through the Book of Haldis with trained packs of war beasts found native in the Haldis jungles. Each hunter commanded a war pack of many dozens. The caretaker natives, most of whom were educators, were no match for the quickly expanding packs. Though they tried bravely, they were slaughtered. A few managed to escape to neighboring cities and a defense was rallied to contain the packs within the walls of the park.

The packs rampaged for weeks, but with little real effect. The Hunters had failed to account for the plague, believing themselves immune. Several of their victims had been carriers. When the Hunters died, the war packs turned on each other. Those that weren’t killed and eaten by their fellows were slain by vigilant caretakers guarding the walls. The natives of the current day still leave ritual offerings along the park’s exterior wall as if to placate angry gods for the failures of their ancestors.

 

Haldis: The Age of Hard Lessons

Aspects: [Harsh Lessons in Caretaking], [Cannibal Cult], [Testing The Fit]

This Age was written for the creator of Gilder. An apprentice was given the task of creating a “reasonably” forgiving environment for older children in which to learn and bond, a place of discovery and life lessons. It was intended to teach young D’ni respect for the Ages they would be visiting as they entered D’ni culture and took their place within the Ages to which they were assigned.

Unfortunately, the apprentice was not of sound mind. A species of cunning pack predator was included, and soon after, several ancient temples from an extinct native population were discovered. At first there were only minor issues between D’ni visitors and the wild packs. The inadvertent discovery of an old temple frequented by the packs fueled the rebirth of an ancient native cannibal cult. No records exist documenting how this happened. The cult recruited like-minded individuals from the D’ni youth camping in the settled areas. The cult waited for decades, claiming the occasional victim, until the moment was right. The Fall started and abruptly ended their rise to power.

Areas of interest:

The Forest Glen: a beautiful place of tall grass and bright sun. Several stout stone buildings provide shelter and comfort for the visitor. The buildings have the D’ni word for “barracks” carved into them. There are no bodies from the Fall here.

The Lake: a bright blue freshwater lake. Small to medium-sized silver fish can be seen swimming in it. A dock and a floating raft are provided for boaters and swimmers. No boats can be seen. The lake connects to the river.

The River: A slow-moving river enters the lake and leaves on the opposite side. Down the river a day’s journey is the Temple. Up river is another glen used for picnicking and camping. Many prepared campsites of stone are overgrown but still usable.

The Temple: built by the original inhabitants, a race of human type that developed a taste for their neighbors. Early in their history they domesticated a large flightless avian predator and through selective breeding made them cunning and hungry for human flesh. These people easily dominated the region for hundreds of years, but over-hunting turned them on one another. A priest class rose and through divine decree devoured an entire generation of their own elders. With no guiding wisdom the remaining factions turned on each other. Before long there were only a few survivors left. They died when the large packs could no longer be controlled. As a people they vanished into history. The temple somehow calls to unstable D’ni and a new cult rises in the ruins of the old. The temple is occupied for decades before the Fall. Initially the newly reborn cult quietly brings in book world native people for ritual feasts celebrating D’ni superiority. But, before long they begin culling the “weak” from their own people using a carefully designed trap.

The Exit Book: a linking book with an elaborately gem-decorated stand. Located in the forest glen, passage to the book is blocked by a clever drawbridge designed to prevent pack predators from using the book. A D’ni puzzle must be solved to lower the bridge and reveal the book. An arrangement of crystals locks the bridge in place. Arrange them into a pattern found in the placement of the barracks, and a drawbridge lowers, revealing a linking book. This book returns the user to Gilder. Arrange the crystals into a pattern found in the temple (a semblance of a pack hunter) and the drawbridge lowers, but a decoy book is revealed. This book takes the user to a small dimly lit room without windows or doors, where red crystals light another linking book that looks identical to the book to Gilder. This book sends the user to a holding cell beneath the Temple from which no one has returned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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