The last several posts were on Numenera, from Monte Cook Games; this time I’m going to do something similar about one of the other games they’ve created and published, The Strange. Today we’ll look at reasons why you might want to consider picking it up to play, and why you might want to pitch it to your friends.
We’ll start with the premise of the game, which is that in the earliest days of the universe there arose an alien civilization that quickly developed advanced technology, on the order of Kardashev IV or V – masters of the universe itself, who decided that the cosmos simply wasn’t sufficient for their purposes. They altered reality itself, creating the foundation of what we know today as dark energy; they designed it as a universe-wide computational network, which they could use for nearly any purpose they felt like. They’d upload themselves into the network, transfer across it to whatever world they wanted to visit, and literally ‘print’ a new body on the other end of the trip.
Somewhere along the way in the billions of years since then, things have gone awry. This first civilization is gone entirely; perhaps ascending to a post-cosmological existence as a Type VI civilization, perhaps simply going extinct from boredom, perhaps destroyed by planetovores (we’ll get back to that terrifying word soon), perhaps something else unimaginable. The dark energy network remains, however, and has grown along with the universe itself – with a distinctly odd quirk.
The network is so powerful a processing system that it can simulate microscopic segments of an actual universe, you see. Some worlds – those which have the good fortune to develop sapient life – are what get termed ‘Prime’ worlds – those whose collection of thinking, dreaming, creative minds seed the dark energy network with their creativity, giving birth to recursions – fictional worlds that generate from the ideas that take root in it. Most worlds only generate a few of these worlds from so-called fictional bleed, but Earth is special, with a vast number of fictive worlds in what gets called the Shoals of Earth. Why? You’ll need to read the book for that; I’m personally going to discard that tidbit in my games.
This brings us to the core of what makes The Strange a unique game: by default, your character is a recursor, someone capable of translating from Earth to one of the recursions around it, and even out into the dark energy network – the Strange, or the chaosphere, as some refer to it. Over the course of a single game session, you can go from being an agent of the Estate on Earth, tracking down a group of smugglers who’ve been bringing items from the Strange to Earth for sale to the high fantasy world of Ardeyn where you’re a traditional adventuring group to rubbing shoulders with Sherlock Holmes.
That’s really the big draw of this – any world you can imagine can exist, including multiple iterations of the same basic world, each with a different twist on the storyline. The Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle is there, as is the Holmes of the Sherlock TV show and the Mr. Holmes movie. Multiple versions of Alice in Wonderland exist, each one twisted in unique ways. In some cases, recursions have merged or been infected by external sources, creating versions unknown to the dreams of the people whose dreams and stories first spawned those world. There’s a version of Camelot infected by a nanotech virus, and a version of Harry Potter where lightsabers have replaced wands and the Force is taught alongside magic.
You can make of this game any number of things; PCs can be agents of the Estate, as the default assumes, or they can work for a secretive government agency, alien groups that have chosen to hide from planetovores in the Shoals of Earth, or even unwitting independent recursors who have no idea of the conflicts going on around them.
And there most certainly are conflicts; the Estate is trying to prevent direct lines between Earth and the Strange out of fear, the Office of Strategic Recursion is trying to militarize the Strange, agents from the Weird Science recursion of Ruk are trying to destroy the Earth to free their recursion-faring world-ship from where it got stuck, and more. Creatures either native to the alien environment of the Strange or evolved from species that once populated a Prime world try to get access to Earth for any number of reasons, as well.
And that brings us to the planetovores – creatures of impossible power, which prey on Prime worlds to conquer and consume them. The events which led up to the creation of Ardeyn and the Estate were sparked by one such being attempting to gain access to the Earth to overwhelm and consume it. Some planetovores simple seek to become gods over a Prime World, ruling eternally over a world where their will controls all the recursions and the Prime world itself. Others seek to consume the vital essence of the world, predators escaped from a long-lost recursion and evolved to godlike power over the long ages.
Essentially, if you liked shows like The X-Files, Supernatural, Grimm, or Constantine, or similar types of books, the Strange is a game you’ll want to give a look. In the course of a single session it lets you go from a cop on the streets of Earth to a heroic knight in a high fantasy kingdom to a deep-space explorer in a sci-fi recursion. You can borrow shamelessly from your favorite pop culture and literature, because the recursions around Earth are literally made of these things. And you can even delve into the swirling fractal chaos of the Strange itself, exploring the universe that underpins the universe – and perhaps even explore alien worlds in the ‘real world’ in the process.
So give it a look!