GM Intrusions E66 - Translation

I have some new additions to the Starwalker Studios YouTube channel to tell you about, and there’s a new free glimmer for Numenera. In Under the Lens I’ll dig into translation in The Strange. Finally Agent Niehl returns with another Strange Encounters.

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Opening Segment

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Free Strange Creatures of the Ninth World glimmer

 Shotguns & Sorcery Cypher System Game Kickstarter nearly funded!

Under the Lens

How to Handle Long Movement

 Joӓo Cartaxo asked about this on Google+.

Thanks Jeremy Land for his insight on this.

The human NPCs in the book are listed as having a movement of short. 

Human PCs can move an immediate distance with a move action, and a short distance with a full action. So I think it's reasonable to assume a creature with a long movement could move a short distance with their move action. 


I’ve covered most aspects of the Cypher System that causes confusion in previous episodes. Check out the GM Intrusions archives.

The Strange adds a new system—translation.

I find a few aspects of translation a little hard to swallow, and I’ve heard others in the community voicing the same thoughts. I’ve had some ideas to help alleviate this.

Initiating Translation

Need one of the following:

  • object from the destination recursion (probably came through an inapposite gate)
  • likeness of destination
  • knowledge of three specific related details of the destination
  • recursion key

This is the only part that involves a roll. Parodoxes are best at initiating (which is to say they get a free retry if they fail).

Hastening Translation

Another PC can hasten the translation, which speeds up the usual 4 hour trance. A non-spinner reduces the time to 2 hours; a spinner reduces it to ten minutes.

This is an area where people have issues with translation, and I completely agree. More on this in a minute.

Easing Translation

Another PC can ease the translation, which reduces the acclimation period upon arrival in the destination recursion. The acclimation period is a time when the PC can’t use any focus abilities from the previous recursion or the destination recursion (unless she dragged a focus).

The book doesn’t say this, but I’d argue that a PC also shouldn’t have access to the “What a recursor knows” information about a recursion until the acclimation period has passed.

Each recursion has a default location, which is where you arrive the first time you translate there. If you’ve been to the recursion before, you arrive at the same spot you were when you last left the recursion.

Other helpers

Additional PCs can aid the initiator with the roll, giving the standard +1 for helping (or a step if higher trained)

Issues with Translation

I think the issues I have with translation, and that I’ve heard other people discuss, can be solved by the GM by how she describes/storytells the translation process. I also have an idea for a couple variations (to the flavor, not the rules really) that makes it make more sense, and makes it easier for the GM to storytell it properly.

The most common questions or issues I hear are:

  • How do you explain a PC suddenly having a new focus and knowing how to use all the abilities?
  • How does the PC gain the focus? Does she choose it, or does it just happen?

I say she chooses it. If it just happened, it would make sense to give the PC the focus that is the closest analog to her focus on her home world. But this isn’t what happens—the PC can have vastly different foci from recursion to recursion. The player chooses the foci (not the GM), so I think it makes the most sense to say the character chooses the focus.

  • How does the PC magically know What a Recursor Knows? Assuming she chooses her focus, how is this choice made?

First, to make this make more sense, I think that ALL PCs (and NPCs) that are translating should be involved in the trance, even if they’re not initiating, hastening, easing or helping the initiator

During the trance, the characters see visions of the Strange, leading to visions of the recursion they’re going to. This is where the key lies.

The GM can narrate the trance like a dream sequence. During this narration she can convey the “What a recursor knows” information visually, perhaps by the characters experiencing the key moments in history, etc. as part of the vision. The GM can also convey the new focus to each character, having the PC have visions of his new abilities. If the PC is choosing a new species or gender, the GM can convey this as well.

This not only make more sense, it also gives the GM to inform the players in-character and in-world instead of giving them bullet points. It allows the GM to set the scene for the new recursion and the new foci.

This makes the 4 hour trance make a lot of sense.

The problem, for me, though is cutting it down to 10 minutes. I could maybe buy 2 hours (although I still think 4 makes a lot more sense), but now way can I buy 10 minutes.

I have an easy fix, though. The key lies in the difference between objective and subjective time.

Time is a real, measurable physical phenomenon. Time isn’t constant, ie. it can speed up or slow down, but it does so based on physical laws.

However, our perception of time is not constant. Eg. being in an accident, when time seems to slow down, or the experience we all have of time seeming to pass more quickly as we age.

The reductions to the length of the trance are changes in the objective time the trance takes—how long the trance takes to an outside observer. However from the characters’ perspective, the trance always takes 4 hours. Basically the spinner (or whoever hastens) is speeding up the mental processes of the participants. They still go through the entire 4 hour mental process of choosing their destination, choosing their focus, and learning about both. To an outside observer, though, the trance only takes 10 minutes.

This is just a mental thing, a thing of perception, so it will have no impact on any game mechanics that reference time (eg. recovery rolls, ability durations, etc.). All such things would use the objective time of 10 minutes, not the subjective time of 4 hours.

However, this allows the GM to narrate the mental gymnastics going on to make translation work. Even if she handwaves it after the first few translations, the players now understand how it works and understand that this process happens every time, even if it happens off camera.

You could even take this a step farther and say that easing a translation actually gives the characters more subjective time in the trance, so they can better prepare for the translation itself and have access to their new focus abilities sooner. This could involve the PCs actually practicing their new abilities in the trance, much like in martial arts where we would meditate and visualize ourselves practicing our kata.

Even if you don’t adopt this interpretation of translation, I strongly advise that you not gloss over the trance. The better you storytell it, the more believable it will be. The characters can also interact within the trance, like a shared dream, so they can even help each other learn their new abilities, and when they arrive at their destination, not only will each know his own focus, but he’ll know what the others are capable of as well.

In writing info dumps are anathema, and we live by the adage “show don’t tell”. Which is to say it’s much better storytelling to invoke an experience in a reader as opposed to just describing what happens. Instead of saying the character is nervous, describe how the character feels, conveying that she’s nervous without ever saying so.

The same is true for storytelling an RPG. Storytelling translation in a visual, experiential way will be much more rewarding and memorable for your players.

Strange Encounters - Using fronts from Dungeon World

Scott goes into more detail on this in this following blog post.

Also check out this post by John Marvin.

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