"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Monday, November 13, 2017


THEY SAY IF YOU DREAM OF FEATHERS it indicates a desire to ascend, to reach up to a higher plane of being or consciousness.  Indigenous peoples, like the Native Americans, saw them as keys to the spirit world, symbols of power and freedom and wisdom.  The ancient Egyptians weighed their hearts against feathers, facing salvation or damnation in the next life.  And then there was the strange case of Somerset, England, 1878.  Workers found a hidden room while demolishing an old house.  Completely inaccessible, without widow or door, it contained six brooms, an armchair, and a knotted cord with feathers woven into it.  People whispered it was the room of a witch; the chair was for resting, the brooms for flying, and the feathers were for casting spells.

All these legends are true. All of these people were dealing with the Vurt.   They sensed the greater Univurt.  It spoke to them.  They went to the Vurt world in dreams and sometimes in those dreams there were feathers.  Blue and Pink, Yellow and Black, rarely terrifyingly Silver.  

But I am getting all ahead of myself.  Let's take it slow.

Vurt: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game is a sumptuous, sexy tome full of hallucinogenic art, haunting dreams, and colored feathers.  Based on Jeff Noon's award winning series of novels, this 420+ page volume is a cyberpunk setting powered by Monte Cook's Cypher System.  We are well past the point, kittlings, where I get give you an elevator pitch for the game; first-gen RPGs were easy that way, emulating a genre like High Fantasy, Space Opera, or the Old West.  Second-gen games were all about the mixing.  High Fantasy Meets Cyberpunk.  Horror Meets Spies.  But games today, like Floats and Spanners and Squids (oops, getting ahead of myself again) are all genetic soup.  They are weirder and wider and wilder.  Vurt is very much that.  Basically, it's like Michael Moorcock at his most extreme.  Think TORG on psilopsyban or RIFTS with an LSD chaser.  In more prosaic terms, Vurt is very much your standard cyberpunk--megacorporations run a highly polarized society of wealthy elites and desperate masses, and technology introduces transhumanist questions--but in Vurt, the genre concept of virtual reality is front and center.  If standard cyberpunk blurs the lines between Man and Machine, Vurt blurs them between the Virtual and Reality.

Some background;

A long time ago and through most of history people thought dreams were just that...dreams.  They didn't know dreams constituted a whole liquid universe next door that our brains shaped and molded like clay.  They didn't know we were peopling an entire cosmos with Santas and Hamlets and Zeuses.  They didn't know that some of the people on the receiving end of our shaping resented it.

But real it was, and around the end of World War II the first mathemagicians began to prove it.  These people began to see existence as pure numbers and their equations could do things to reality we hadn't seen before.  Basically, the discovery that Earth was just a single facet of a big, fucking, multidimensional Univurt rewrote the science books and allowed us to start doing things previously confined to science fiction.  Androids.  Ridiculously tall skyscrapers.  Hovercars.  Spaceships.  Reality had become a lot more plastic, and that's the kind of thing that is bound to lead to trouble.

A string of world-shaking disasters ensued, and the biggest of these was a plague of sterility that threatened the human race with one-generation-left extinction.  So some geniuses came up with Fecundity 10, a viral mathemagical fertility drug that basically turned people into insane nymphomaniacs and satyromaniacs.  Think the rabid zombie people in 28 Days Later that want to hump the shit out of you instead of kill you.  They didn't just screw people; they screwed animals and corpses and robots (later they screwed Vurt beings too), and because this drug guaranteed fertility, and the walls of reality were basically Jell-O...these unions were all fruitful.  After a few outbreaks of Fecundity 10 there isn't just a human race but 31 modes of being, for your basic Dogman to Robomanshadodogs, five separate categories of being all mixed up like a rubix cube no one has bothered solving.  

Oh but wait: you wanted to hear about the feathers.  Right.

So we'd known about the other side of the looking glass forever.  Humans have always dreamed, after all.  And the mathemagicians had us pressed up real close to the mirror, nearly humping our reflections.  But it was a girl named Celia Hobart who actually pulled an Alice and walked us through.  She's the one who came up with the feathers, see.

A Vurt feather is a mathemagical key to the Other Side.  Put the feather in your mouth and millions of tiny barbed neuromatocysts latch on to the back of your throat and access your nervous system.  Each feather is a program, a program that shapes part of the dream world and then plugs you into it.  Say goodnight Hollywood.  Bid adieu to TV.  Why watch a story when you can be a story?  Pop a perfectly safe and legal Blue feather (a "baby blue") in your mouth and then you are one of the Friends sitting in the Central Perk coffee shop quipping with your buds.  You are Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon.  You are Frodo bearing the ring.  You experience a full programmed dream, from start to finish, and best of all you can bring your friends.  Everyone pops the same programmed Blue and enjoys the ride together.  As mentioned, this is completely safe; your consciousness pops into a Vurt body made for you.  In Cypher System terms, whatever damage you take to your stat pools reverts back to the same levels you were at before you went into the dream.  It's the Vurtverse equivalent of a holodeck ride.

Less vanilla, but just as safe and just as legal, are the Pink feathers.  These babies are Vurtworld porn.  Flying solo?  Pop a Pink in your mouth and experience an orgy.  Are you and your partner feeling adventurous?  Spice up your sex life with feathers that make you and your partner look like your favorite athlete, rock star, or supermodel.

N0w--and understand this kittlings--with Blues and Pinks your mind gets settled in a nice cozy body made of Vurt stuff. You aren't you anymore, you are someone else.  Take a Blue to experience your favorite superhero movie and you are that superhero, with all his powers and abilities.  Disappointed with the equipment nature gave you?  Pop a Pink and you are the best endowed porn star around.  The feather dictates the form you take.  Also, with Blues and Pinks, you can jerk out of the feather anytime you please, coming back to the "real" world.  But where we are going next--the Blacks and the Yellows--that's a whole other game.

The Black feathers are illegal, and provide a much higher stakes thrill.  When you take one, you appear in the Vurtworld as yourself, in a dream body that is an exact copy of you.  This extends to the equipment you carry.  All your talents and abilities are your own.  For some featherheads, Blacks offer the chance to pit themselves against challenges not found in the meat and bone world.  Are you a martial artist who wants to prove she could kick Bruce Lee's ass?  Here's your chance.  Big game hunter bored with hunting lions in Africa?  Try tackling a dragon.  For other feather users Blacks offer darker thrills...more intense BDSM pleasures, the slick joy of killing with your own bare hands.  Whatever your kick there is a feather for it.  The drawback of the Black feather (some would call it a feature rather than a bug), is that whatever damage you suffer in the Vurt is likewise suffered by your waking world body.  And if you die in the Vurt, you die period.  Jerking out is also harder, requiring an Intellect roll against the feather's level.

Yellow feathers are the ultimate in risk.  Highly illegal, they are also highly prized.  The Yellows are full-on Through the Looking Glass, and come with consequences.

When you take a Yellow, you enter the Vurt so deeply that you cannot come back until the program in the feather is finished; there is no jerking out.  Like Blacks, whatever injuries you suffer are real, and dying is dying.  Unlike Blacks, Yellows have a nasty habit of pulling you all the way in.  In other words, your body can vanish from the waking world completely.  You are in the Vurt, equipment and all.  This doesn't just have repercussions for you, but for the world...because when something goes into the Vurt, something else must come out.  Using Yellows can therefore unleash Vurt creatures and beings into the world of flesh and bone, and some take up residence here.

In game terms, completing feathers provides XP.  Blues and Pinks offer 1 XP for a level 1-3 feather, and 2 XP for levels 4-6.  Blacks offer 3 XP for levels 1-3, and 4 XP for levels 4-6.  With Yellow feathers, the haul goes up to 5 XP and 6 XP.  

Since we brought up the rules, Vurt as mentioned runs on  Monte Cook's Cypher System, so if you have played it, or Numenera, or The Strange, you know the drill.  There are a few tweaks, however, to make the system fit the setting.  For example, the Descriptors have now been replaced with "Modes."  Remember when we talked about Fecundity 10?  Modes stem from that.  The reality-bending fertility drug that saved humans from extinction made it possible to breed with artificial lifeforms, animals, dream-beings from the Vurtworlds, and even the dead.  This created hybrids, and the hybrids in turn crossbred with each other.  Vurt gives you, then, 31 combinations of these "races" as Modes; you could be Pure Human or Pure Robo (artificial lifeforms capable of producing offspring), but you could also be a Dogman or Shadowman (half living half dead), A Robodogman or Shadowvurtdog, etc etc.  The names get eccentric, sounding like the types had been tossed in a blender, but they work pretty much like standard racial Descriptors, and once you have a sense of what each baseline Mode is like, it isn't too difficult to imagine what the combinations might play like.

Cypher System fans will recognize the Character Types--these are still the Explorer, the Speaker, and the Warrior.  The Adept has been refit into the Mathemagician, a numbers-crunching genius whose prowess with mathemagical equations allows the character to bend and sculpt reality.  In most respects this is the standard Adept, and players will recognize it right away.

The Foci, which are really the heart of Cypher characters, are all new and setting specific.  Maybe your character Can't be Mithered, Craves the Fix, Is a Lucky Bleeder or Top Gears.  There are around 30 new Foci, many of which could be adapted to any cyberpunk game and some suitable for whatever genre you like.  Each is customized for this setting, and helps players better understand the setting they are slipping into.

Vurt: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game is a slick, gorgeous product.  Both the PDF and the hardcover are chock full of  excellent, full-color art perfectly evocative of the hallucinogenic setting.  Both the dreamworlds of the Vurt and the meat and bone megacity of Manchester are detailed, with descriptions of the megacorps, histories of the setting, tons of write-up for adversaries, new cyphers, and even adventures.  Ravensdesk Games delivers on the high quality we have come to expect from Cypher System products and then some.  If you like cyberpunk, if you liked Lovecraft's Dreamlands, if you liked Shadowrun but would like to try a more "cyberpunk meets dark fantasy" instead of "high fantasy," Vurt deserves a place on your shelf.  Cypher fans will want it just for its new collection of Foci and ideas for running other cyberpunk settings.  Don't let not having read the books dissuade you...the book is an excellent introduction to Noon's world.

So there, kittling, is the feather.  It remains up to you to pop it into your mouth or not.