Yesterday we looked at the general reasons why you might want to give The Strange a look if you’re in the market for a new RPG. Today, we’ll look at the three most well-detailed of the worlds available – Ardeyn, the land of high fantasy; Ruk, a world of mad science; and Earth, our familiar old home. We’ll be looking at how you might be able to use each of these in your recursion-spanning adentures.
Ardeyn started off as a bunch of code and design assets for a MMORPG; the design team who made it were also involved as part of a group working with the first quantum computer design, and this put them in a somewhat unique situation. Quantum-level computing is one of the things that can establish a direct connection between the Strange and the regular universe, and so when the system was first switched on and used for a virtual reality simulation it pinged the dark energy network.
Which naturally drew the attention of planetovores that happened to be in the area, drawing them to the connection that would let them bypass the Shoals entirely and head straight for Earth. In an action of remarkably quick thinking, the lead designer threw the code for the game into the quantum computer and had it load directly into the Strange, effectively plugging the link as the world of Ardeyn went from code and dreams to a physical world acting as a bulwark for Earth.
Ardeyn’s a high fantasy world, but it isn’t European high fantasy; it has more in common with a Sumerian kind of mythos than the more usual type, and that gives it a certain unique flavor that serves the Strange well. People can be either humans or a kind of mortal-descended race of former divine servitors, the qephilim, who have jackal heads and affinities to their ancestral god. The world’s gods are pretty much dead or otherwise missing, other than the former god of war who became the Betrayer.
Ardeyn is a fantastic resource if you want your game to dip into mythological themes, high fantasy settings, or have a bit of a ‘modern yokel cast into fantastic history’ vibe. The lattermost is honestly the best way to use it, if you don’t go with the idea of the PCs starting as members of the Estate; having ordinary people from Earth all stumble through a translation gate into Ardeyn can introduce them to the wonders of the Strange quickly and with a definite vibe of high adventure.
Plus, well, there are demons and worse to fight, and who hasn’t wanted the chance to be a bit of a hero?
Ruk is the most developed of the Mad Science recursions, and with good reason – it isn’t native to the Shoals of Earth, but was instead a world-ship built by the original inhabitants long ago to escape the destruction of their own world by a planetovore. Originally a self-contained recursion that could roam freely across the Strange, it ran aground long before humans were a major concern on Earth proper, and they’ve been interfering with history ever since.
Ruk is a place where biology is as easily manipulated as mechanical technology, with the line between living and unliving blurred much more than in a world with Standard Physics. Ages ago, the inhabitants of Ruk were forced to patch the function of their worldship after some unknown and catastrophic loss, giving rise to the competition of the True Code and the All-Song, which are manifestations of the original design and the patch, respectively.
There are those in Ruk who would like to help Earth prosper, perhaps to eventually achieve what their people never could and take the fight to the planetovores, while others want to simply hide out and avoid the notice of those dangerous beasts – and at least one faction wants to destroy the Earth itself, to free Ruk from the Shoals. So far, none of these factions have attained dominance over the others in their ongoing shadow war – something with ample opportunities for players to get involved with.
It’s a world of shifting conspiracies, secrets hidden in plain sight, alien lifeforms strolling casually down the street, and all the other tropes of mad science, extreme sci-fi, and H.R. Giger that you could possibly ask for. Ruk is a wonderful place to drop your players when they need to science the hell out of something, or when they need someone wiser in the ways of the Strange than they are. One potential alternate patron for a player group, the Quiet Cabal, is based in Ruk. They’re an excellent way to introduce lost neophyte recursors to the Strange, particularly since they’re one of the groups of good guys that aren’t interested in the Earth ceasing to exist.
Rukians also make excellent villains – they’ve had quite a lot longer than humanity to come to understand the Strange and hone their knowledge, and their position as literal dimension-hopping aliens lends them a certain monstrous potential that others might lack; you could easily play them up as being like the Mi-Go, inscrutable and monstrous as they casually harvest specific ndividuals from the earth, with no one willing to believe reports of people disappearing into shadows with kidnap victims, never to be seen again.
Lastly, there’s Earth. Good old Mother Earth, where almost everyone is ignorant of the fact that just under the skein of conventional reality are swarms of dream worlds and nightmare world-eating monstrosities looking for a way up. The secrets behind reaching the Strange are a carefully kept secret among the factions in the know, because the last thing anyone wants is for some curious, well-meaning person to open the door for a planetovore to come climbing up.
Well, mostly. Some keep it a secret because they don’t want any established planetovores to beat them to it, intending to become one of the godlike beings in their own right. Others want to make sure that the planetovore (nascent or actual) that they personally serve will be the first one up the eventual pipe, and they’re in fierce competition to make sure their god is ascendant.
The Estate is the default organization, the one the PCs are assumed to be part of. They operate as an extra-governmental organization, aware of the various other factions and striving against them to try to keep the Earth safe until humanity stands a chance against the inhabitants of the Strange. They have on-again off-again relations with groups like the Quiet Cabal and the Office of Strategic Recursion, the latter being a militaristic organization looking for ways to turn the very concept of recursions into a military asset.
This is, of course, the absolute best place to start off with any new campaign. Have your players make clueless natives of Earth, unaware of the seething cauldron of chaos under the skin of reality, only to have them stumble through a recursion gate into another world or trip over some creature that made it to earth without being translated for Standard Physics. Before long, they’ll be off to explore the worlds of their favorite video games and movies, rubbing shoulders with literary heroes, and taking on the job of keeping the Earth from being eaten whole.
That covers the Big Three of the Earth’s recursions; for more, check out the Recursion Codex! The folks at Monte Cook Games made it specifically so that players can share their creations with the world; there are some real gems there, even as there are some absolute stinkers. (It’s all subjective; things that repulse me may well appeal to you.)
Next week we’ll take a look at some of the smaller recursions and some seeds for adventures in the Strange!