What is THE STRANGE? Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell, and Charles Ryan talk about their latest giant Kickstarter!
  • What is THE STRANGE? Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell, and Charles Ryan talk about their latest giant Kickstarter!

    Monte Cook Games launched its second Kickstarter last week - THE STRANGE, a roleplaying game pitched by Bruce Cordell and which features multiple realities, a rocket-propelled start to the fundraising (nearly $150K already) and the talents of Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell. What could go wrong? Well, as it happens, nothing! The Kickstarter's funded, it's powering its way through various stretch goals, and at the time of writing looks set to beat NUMENERA. Monte, Bruce, and Chief Operations Officer Charles Ryan were kind enough to answer a few questions about THE STRANGE, Kickstarters, licensing, lessons, and more! Explore mysterious worlds hidden just outside our reality in this new RPG using the story-based Cypher System of Numenera.

    Russ: So, this is MCG's second Kickstarter. The first made half a million dollars. This one, at the time of writing, has made nearly $50,000 in just a couple of hours since launch [Note from Morrus - this interview took place a couple of days ago]. How does it feel going into the second big Kickstarter? Do you feel more confident, more apprehensive? What would you say is the biggest thing you learned from the first one?
    Monte Cook: In many ways, the second thing you do after a successful first thing--game, novel, album--is tricky. Because people have high expectations. They want you to do the same thing again, but at the same time they want something new. So there's some nervousness on our part, I'll admit. But at the same time, I'm far more confident. Because now I know this can all be done. With Numenera, there was so much about it that I didn't know how to do. I don't mean writing the game. That part I've been doing for 25 years. I mean all the other parts. But with the help of awesome people like Shanna Germain, Tammie Ryan, and Charles Ryan, we figured it all out and got it all done. We learned a lot, and can apply those lessons to The Strange. (And just simply having four--and now, with Bruce Cordell, five--people rather than one makes a huge difference.)

    I think the biggest lesson--if I can choose only one--would be to keep things better organized. By the end of the Numenera Kickstarter it was difficult for backers to understand who was getting what, which level got which rewards, and how to select the add-ons they wanted. Plus, having a million different items with a number of different versions each causes chaos in shipping. This time, we know we want to keep things more manageable. That's why, rather than dozens of different products and add-ons, for example, we have organized things into packages and kits. We'll still have a ton of great stuff for people--and it will just keep getting better and better as we add to those packages and kits with stretch goals--but it's all better organized.

    Charles Ryan: I think that’s right. When we went to fulfill Numenera, we had literally 50 different products. We shipped 11,272 physical items to 59 different countries, plus more than 40,000 digital products to gamers everywhere. We had 12,000 orders to fill. Many of those were just one corebook, or a corebook and a Player’s Guide. But hundreds and hundreds of them were one of this, one of that. And it’s not like Kickstarter just spits this data out to you nicely and neatly—you have to compile it from multiple sources. Our master spreadsheet was so big—I kid you not—that it broke Microsoft Excel. The kits and packages really help keep the rewards understandable for our backers, and manageable for us.

    Russ: As I understand it, THE STRANGE deals with the concept of alternate realities, which you call "recursions". Could you give a brief example of what an adventure might look like in that paradigm? Do characters cross multiple realities in one game session? Is each reality a 'location' for an adventure? Do the realities affect each other?
    Bruce Robert Cordell: Here's a brief synopsis of what an adventure start in The Strange might look like, though since this is an intro to your readers, let's make this adventure synopsis an origin story too:

    A PC's favorite aunt dies, leaving behind various odds and ends, including a locked chest. Inside is a weird object that looks somewhat like a ball of metallic yarn wrapped around a blinking-snake-like eye! With the object is a note written in fancy script: "Return this furious snake to Hazzurrium before the end of Suntide, or the seal will fail. Keep it safe from the Betrayer. Here on Earth, it is locked in this configuration. But in Ardeyn, it will walk free again as a sirrušu!"

    The touch of the object wakes something in the character, some touch of recognition, and more than that, a strange ability never before realized--the PC can touch the Strange, and could become a Vector, a Spinner, or a Paradox . . . unfortunately, the PC doesn't have too much time to figure out because that's when the doors are kicked in by gun-wielding goons who obviously know a lot more than the PC. In order to figure out what's going on, what the "furious snake" is, and how to protect him or herself, the PC will have to flee, find others who know about Ardeyn, and with their help translate into a recursion where everything is different, even the PC.

    I think with the nature of the game, a good adventure for The Strange will always involve more than one recursion. They do affect each other--and they affect the PCs. That's what makes the whole thing interesting. Events on Earth might directly affect Ruk. A fundamental threat to Ardeyn can easily become a threat to Earth as well (because Ardeyn actually protects Earth... but I'm getting ahead of myself). And it gets more intricate even than that. The best way to solve a problem on Ardeyn might be to go to Earth and do something there. The thing that's causing problems on Earth might actually be an agent from Ruk with its own agenda.

    And there are of course, potentially many other recursions as well.

    Russ: You list three recursions - modern Earth, Ardeyn (magic and monsters) and Ruk (alien biotech). Will further recursions be covered by adventures or sourcebooks? How varied can recursions be - could you have a silver age superhero themed recursion, or a classic Hammer horror themed recursion, in addition to the alien and magic themes?
    BRC: Correct, we're focusing on two main recursions, Ardeyn and Ruk, and one prime world, Earth. Other recursions exist, but few are as "complete" as Ardeyn and Ruk, at least around Earth. Any given recursion, large or small, must possess an internally consistent set of rules, or it will collapse. However, those rules can be fairly broad, as long as they are consistent. Which means that, yep, super-hero recursions, magic recursions, and romantic fantasy recursions might all exist.

    MC: One of the cool things about The Strange is that the GM can add whatever recursions he wants. And because it's possible (albeit rare) that something that starts out as purely fictional on Earth can “bleed” into the Strange, your favorite setting from a book or movie can actually be a recursion deep down in the Strange, waiting to be discovered. GMs could even take their homebrew settings from other games and make them recursions.

    CMR: We’ve been getting a lot of questions about compatibility between Numenera and The Strange. In addition to mechanical compatibility, I think a thematic compatibility could work. Some fans have suggested that The Strange represents one of the eight prior worlds behind Numenera. Others have posited that Numenera could be a recursion in The Strange. I think it’s cool that either variation could work.

    Russ: Later in the game, you say that players themselves can create their own realities. Could you explain what you mean by that?

    Player characters are special, whether on Earth or native to a recursion of Ardeyn or Ruk, because they have a special something that ties them to hidden quality Earth possess that most other places in the universe apparently lack. This quality's origin will be revealed later, but the quality both protects Earth from being overrun by entities out of the Strange, but also gives certain people the ability to "touch" the Strange (not all people have it; in fact, most don't). In addition to giving players access to translate between recursions, it also allows them the ability, given time and concentration of creative impetus, to seed a fledgling recursion of their own into the Strange. (Other methods exist, but are not usually so directed and have less predictable results.)

    MC: The cool part of this is, creating a recursion is a group activity, so it fits into the “PC group” idea really well. This can be the genesis of all kinds of adventures, as the PCs seek ways to create, grow, and defend their creation.

    Russ: Given Bruce Cordell's involvement, which of the following elements will be present in THE STRANGE?

    • Psionics
    • Tentacles
    • Far Realms

    BRC: None of the above will be a focus of The Strange, but given my answer earlier about the possibilities inherent in recursions, all could be present somewhere seeded around Earth. That said, there is probably a limit to the total number of recursions right around Earth; to find or create more (especially more that are as advanced as Ardeyn or Ruk) might eventually a voyage farther out into the dark energy network of the Strange.

    Russ: Pardon me for bringing this up, but it is a question that I feel will be asked - and this is as good a place as any to explain how you've improved processes since the NUMENERA Kickstarter. It has been argued in various venues that one would have gotten the NUMENERA rewards quicker by NOT backing the Kickstarter and simply purchasing them at retail. Do you have more robust measures in places to ensure that backers get priority?

    MC: Well, we had a snafu in shipping that occurred because of a miscommunication. Long story short, the shipper thought that they weren't supposed to start shipping until after GenCon, when of course we didn't want that. I wasn't there to catch and correct this miscommunication because I was at my father's funeral.

    A few people complained about this on the Internet. Most, however, saw that the backers of the Kickstarter got, rather than just the book, the book plus a couple hundred dollars worth of additional stuff, all thanks to the stretch goals. Our “real deal” level in the Numenera Kickstarter was one of the best deals in gaming by the end of the campaign.

    That said, if someone would rather support their local game store, I say, “awesome.” But to actually answer your question, it's our experiences with Numenera fulfillment that makes us quite confident about The Strange fulfillment, and that backers will get their products before they are generally available. After the work we put in this year, I daresay that there's no one in the RPG industry that knows more about fulfilling a huge and complex KS than we do. In fact, we’ve reached out to a few other very large upcoming Kickstarter fulfillments for other companies right now, because we want to share the knowledge.

    CMR: Kickstarter is not a zero-sum game. It’s a growth hormone for our industry and the hobby we love. The more companies succeed with Kickstarter, the stronger the gaming community will become. We’ve reached out to other companies that have had big KS campaigns because we’ve blazed a trail through a lot of pitfalls and potential disasters. We want them to learn from our challenges, because their success will benefit us all.

    Russ: You use NUMENERA's Cypher system for THE STRANGE. Are there any alterations needed to the system, or does it port directly across without modification needed? Are you viewing the system as a generic system designed to power multiple games? And are you likely to license the system (as opposed to NUMENERA or THE STRANGE) to power third party products?

    To answer your first question, it ports directly in a lot of ways, but we see a really wonderful way of modifying a couple things. The first is that PCs change when they translate between primes and recursions; their foci switches! Second, cyphers are functionally equivalent to what they are in Numenera, but WHAT they are and where they come from is different: They are tiny bits of "god code" of the Strange itself, which allows them to transfer without change from recursion to recursion, and even up to Earth itself, and remain fully functional.

    MC: Regarding the licensing issues, it's certainly possible.

    Russ: You recently released a fan community policy, quickly followed by a limited license for third party publishers who wish to produce NUMENERA content. Has the limited license been taken up by many yet? Is third party content something you guys feel strongly about?

    We’ve had many companies inquire about the Limited License, and several have signed it and are moving forward on their projects. I don’t want to announce anything ahead of them, though—it’s their prerogative to be the first to talk about their products.

    In general, yes, we’re strong believers in the power of the gaming community, and letting people join us in the sandbox is really a part of how that happens these days. Certainly, I have that experience from my years of overseeing the d20 License and OGL. The Numenera Limited License is a bit different, though, because it opens up not just the game engine, but also our world—our setting and, by extension, our brand. That brings a lot of different considerations into play, which is why it’s a limited license rather than an open one.

    But, yes, we think this is important, and we really value the engagement of the many very, very creative people in the gaming community.

    Russ: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these! I'm sure over the next month, many more questions will arise, and hopefully we can chat again!

    If you want to back THE STRANGE on Kickstarter, you'll find it here.

    Monte Cook Games was formed in 2012 following the incredible success of the Numenera RPG Kickstarter campaign, and with the aim of revitalizing fan passion for RPGs through high-quality, innovative releases. Monte himself has been in the game business for nearly 25 years, having written or contributed to Planescape, the 3E Dungeon Master’s Guide, Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, The Book of Eldritch Might, Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved, and the ground-breaking Ptolus—and, of course, Numenera.