The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘the strange’

The Strange: Mastodon - Bruce Cordell

As I’ve done previously for Into the Violet Vale (for Numenera) and Eschatology Code (for The Strange), I’m offering up the prep notes I made for Mastodon — an introductory scenario for The Strange designed by Bruce Cordell — before running it at Gen Con 2015.

Unlike those previous adventures, I didn’t put together a GM cheat sheet for the adventure. But I did put together a bunch of other cool tools that I hope you’ll find useful.


The Strange: Mastodon - Notice of Termination

(click for PDF)

This Notice of Termination is designed to be given to your players as they approach the table. (Or you could e-mail it to them as a pitch for the scenario.) It’s designed to serve as an initial briefing for the background of the scenario.


The Strange: Mastodon - PC Cheat Sheets

(click for PDF)

The adventure includes pregenerated characters. The PC cheat sheets I’ve prepared are designed to eliminate book look-ups for the abilities that aren’t fully described on the character sheets. (I’ve found that this usually saves about 20-30 minutes of playing time, so their use greatly improves pacing if you’re using Mastodon as a one-shot for introducing people to the game.)

These cheat sheets, however, also include additional briefing material regarding PROJECT MASTODON and a “flashback memory” specific to each character that reveals a slice of what happened 10 years ago. (Note that I’ve specifically altered the background of the adventure to include the “amnesia” the PCs are suffering from.)

If you’re not using the pregenerated characters, it should still be relatively easy to adapt these flashbacks to whatever characters the players are running. They serve three functions:

First, in combination with the Notice of Termination, they eliminate the need for the GM to do a verbal exposition dump at the beginning of the session. Instead, you can frame hard to the PCs having drinks in the hotel bar before going up to their meeting with Alessandra Torres.

Second, they introduce an element of mystery around their experiences on Ruk. I found that this provided an additional driver for the scenario and also delivered a bigger pay-off for the players when they finally reach Ruk.

Third, by giving each PC a different clue/memory about their experiences 10 years ago, it gives them a topic of meaningful conversation for that first meeting in the hotel bar. This allows that conversation to continue at greater length, which means it also works better at introducing and establishing the characters. (Before I introduced this change to the scenario, the hotel bar meeting would usually consist of everyone saying “hi” and then sitting in awkward silence until I cut away from the scene.)


  • Mastodon Handouts: These include a Deinonychus photo, the whiteboard in the conference room, the Breakaway Couriers logo, Anson’s note, and photos of both Amla-Shoon and the Rukian guards. (You’ll need a couple of envelopes: One for the Breakaway Couriers delivery. The other for Anson’s briefing on Ruk. Glue the logo to the former; paperclip the note to the latter.)
  • PC Tent Cards: Using the pregen characters included in the scenario, I put these in the middle of the table. As people approach, they can select whichever character looks appealing to them and put the tent card in front of them. It’s a nice, quick way to facilitate character selection and also means that you (and other players) can quickly identify who’s playing who with a quick glance during play. These files are designed to be printed with Avery “Small Tent Cards” (template 5302), but you could also just print them on normal cardstock. What you need to do is take each A file and then flip it and print the matching B file. (Each sheet has four tent cards, so I’ve designed the three files so that I get two complete sets of character names if I print all three (to minimize wastage). If you just want one set, print sets 1 and 2 and you should be good to go.)
  • Cypher Cards: These are for all the cyphers that the PCs can find or gain during the adventure. (This includes the three cyphers that Frin brings them, see above.) These cards are designed to be printed on Avery 8471 business cards, but can easily be printed on any paper or cardstock and then cut out.

Go to Part 1

A few thoughts on follow-ups to this scenario:

  • Enkara-ulla contaminated the reservoir at the water tower with Rukian biology. That reservoir is connected to the water supply for thousands of San Francisco residents. What effect may it have had on them?
  • The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Transamerica PyramidThe crisis at the Transamerica Pyramid may result in a huge up-tick in quickened individuals throughout the San Francisco region. (Particularly if the fractal worm showed up.) The Estate may be working overtime tagging new threats and recruiting new assets.
  • Speaking of the fractal worm, the PCs may need to work fast to plant a cover story capable of explaining its presence. (LSD in the water supply?)
  • What made the Transamerica Pyramid so special? Did Jack R. Beckett (CEO of Transamerica when the Pyramid was built), William Pereira (the architect), and/or someone at the Dinwiddie Construction Company include Strange technology in its construction? (Perhaps recursion keys or inapposite gates?)
  • The most obvious step is tracking Enkara-Ulla’s operation back to Ruk. As long as he, his notes, and/or his prototypes survive there’s a significant danger to Earth. (Such an investigation might start with tracking down the inapposite gate he was using to bring Rukian equipment and personnel to Earth.) Things could get even more interesting if the entity behind the Qinod Singularity takes an inexplicable interest in his technology.
  • The mailing list of Eschaton Electronic’s customers represents a database of people with potentially strong or unusual interest in cyphers. If the Estate became aware of it, they might attempt to secure a copy (if the PCs have not already done so). And once they’ve done that, they’ll start sending teams to investigate it.


Alternatively, the recursion rupture powers up the Transamerica Pyramid as a giant, multifaceted inapposite gate.

Because of the building’s unusual shape, all of the windows in the building are designed to rotate 180-degrees – flipping around so that they can be cleaned from the inside. After the Incident, however, when you flip one of the windows around you’ll find yourself looking into another recursion (or out into the Strange).

The Estate (or some other organization) moves in to secure the building and begin exploring the 3,600+ gates that the building now plays host to.

(Alternatively: Perhaps the windows act as gates without showing you what’s on the other side. That turns the building in to the recursion-equivalent of Frederick Pohl’s Gateway.)


If you’d like to download a PDF version of The Violet Spiral Gambit, click the link below. There’s also a link for downloading all of the props for use with this scenario.

The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - PDF Download


The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Props Pack

(Zip File)


Go to Part 1

The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Crown Jewel Alight


  • Enkara-ulla has replaced the Crown Jewel beacon atop the Transamerica Pyramid and filled the Spire below it with his multiply field-tested equipment.
  • When the PCs arrive, Enkara-ulla’s machinery is up-and-running.
  • His goal is to temporarily blanket downtown San Francisco with the law of Mad Science.
  • Enkara-ulla’s experiment will actually fail regardless of what the PCs do. However, if it’s allowed to continue to conclusion what it will do is rip a huge recursion rupture in the sky above downtown San Francisco. (See Failure, below.)

GM Note: The general intention here is that the Rukians on the 48th Floor will fall back into the Spire. There will be a big, climactic fight in the Spire itself. And then the PCs will need to ascend to the Crown Jewel and prevent Enkara-ulla’s machine from opening the recursion rupture.


This intrusion can be triggered at any time when it would complicate something the PCs are trying to accomplish: Just as the PCs arrive at the building. While they’re arguing with security guards in the lobby. Just after they’ve been arrested by security. As the fight breaks out on the 48th Floor. (It should definitely start before they reach the Crown Jewel.)

BLUE LIGHTNING: Races up and down the exterior of the Pyramid, dancing across the surface of white quartz and between the 3,600 windows.

  • Speed defense (level 4) to avoid 6 points of ambient damage, then Might defense (level 4) to avoid losing next action.
  • Entering/Exiting Building: Blue lightning affects anyone trying to enter or leave the building.
  • GM Intrusion: Can be used for a blue lightning strike almost anywhere, but particularly in the Spire and Crown Jewel.

PANIC: Once the blue lightning starts, people will begin to panic (both inside the building and outside of it). PCs may need to deal with mobs (Might task to move through them). Once it becomes clear that the lightning is striking people trying to run out of the building, they may also need to take action to save people.

STRANGE CREATURES: The rupture can also serve as a vector for a GM intrusion which adds creatures from anywhere in the Strange or the recursions of Earth.

STOPPING THE RUPTURE: Once the experiment has been triggered, the equipment in the Spire is largely irrelevant. Its purpose was to catalyze the Enkara-ulla’s Ersatz Jewel. Once that’s done, the Ersatz Jewel runs by itself (see The Crown Jewel below).

FAILURE: If the PCs fail to prevent or interrupt Enkara-ulla’s experiment, the sky above the Transamerica Pyramid ruptures and a portion of the Strange is copied into the sky above downtown San Francisco.

  • Clouds billow out of the rupture, rapidly filling the sky above the pyramid.
  • Then the clouds are eaten away by huge, fractal roils of purple and blue which burn the eye that tries to follow them.
  • FRACTAL WORM: The massive tentacles of a fractal worm (Strange Bestiary, pg. 55) descend out of the roiling fog of the chaos-stuff. (Followed by the full bulk of the thing moments later.)


  • The public is only allowed on the ground floor of the Pyramid (where a gift shop and historical center are located).
  • Access to the elevators requires passing through metal detectors monitored by security guards.
  • The 48th Floor is rented out by “Uller Manufacturing”: Mentioning that name or Andrew Uller counts as an asset for convincing the guards that you have legitimate business up there.

TRANSAMERICA SECURITY GUARDS (Level 3): health 12, damage 4, armor 1.

  • Perception as level 4.
  • Paranoid, all activities involving suspicion as level 5.

48th FLOOR

The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - 48th Floor of the Transamerica Pyramid

A single conference room with an elevator in a niche off to one side and a flight of stairs that lead down to the restrooms on the 47th Floor

VIEW: Surrounded by windows looking out over Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge. (The Bank of America building to the south takes a chunk out of the view.)

SPIRE DOOR: On the wall of the conference room opposite the elevator, there’s a metal security door in the wall next to a 55” television. It leads to a short flight of stairs up to the base of the Spire.

VENOM TROOPERS (x2): The Strange, pg. 300.

  • Armed with slaughter accelerators that spit out a hail of plasma-charged flechettes.
  • After a round or two of combat, they’ll fall back into the Spire.

ENKARA-ULLA ON AIR: Enkara-ulla will commandeer the TV, displaying his face and using it to shoot electrical bolts.

  • Electrical Bolts (Level 5): 6 damage


The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Spire of the Transamerica Pyramid

BASE OF THE SPIRE: A broad, open space with diamond-like girders above. The walls of the Spire are only open, aluminum grating – the window howls straight through them.

  • Strange, alien machinery has been suspended from the support beams like scaffolding. Thick, black cables run between them.
  • There are several ominous hums in the air; each overlapping and harmonizing with each other in a horrible, broken cacophony.
  • Bright lights pulse randomly here and there. Several thick laser beams stutter-step back and forth, like some sort of fiery morse code.
  • GM Note: The Spire is 212-feet tall.

STAIRS: Lower Spire is lined with a 100-foot steel stairway at a steep, 60-degree angle (+1 difficulty to move up or down it).

LADDERS: At the top of the stairs, there are two steel ladders that climb another 100 feet to the Crown Jewel above.

VENOM TROOPERS (x2): The Strange, pg. 300

  • 1 near the top of the stairs, 1 near the bottom.

RUKIAN SERVITOR DRONES (x8): Flying here and there throughout the entire height of the Spire.

ENKARA-ULLA: He’s up on the ladders, finishing adjustments to the last bit of machinery.

  • Andrew Uller: Non-descript guy. Mousy brown hair. He’s taken off his suit coat and has the sleeves on his dress shirt rolled up. His eyes have purple irises.
  • Manipulating Machinery: Causes various pieces of machinery to jut out or spark, causing 4 points of damage. (If he feels eminently threatened, he triggers his battle chrysalid transformation.)
  • Battle Chrysalid Transformation: Rips out of his skin. Mechanical wings spread wide. His human face sloughs away. (Prop: Enkara-Ulla)

GM Intrusion: Instead of dying, Enkara-ulla smashes out through the aluminum grating. (He’ll begin using his shoulder cannons to attack from a Long range, firing into the interior of the Spire.)

ENKARA-ULLA: level 5, health 30, damage 5, armor 2

  • Performs Mad Science tasks as level 7.
  • Melee Flurry: Can make two melee attacks as a single action.
  • Shoulder-Mounted Slaughter Accelerators: Can also fire two shoulder-mounted slaughter accelerators as part of the same action.

RUKIAN SERVITOR DRONES: level 2, health 6, damage 2

  • Rukian Servitor Drones are the size of a small dog with a vaguely insectoid appearance.
  • They’re biotech, with either metal wings or aeropter rotors grafted to their backs.


The chamber at the top of the Spire is a glass cap perched atop the Pyramid. It’s roughly the size of an office cubicle.

  • GM Note: The beacon that is normally located in the center of the Crown Jewel is a multi-faceted reflector inside a glass cylinder. Puts out 6,000 watts and is only lit on special occasions.

ERSATZ JEWEL: A huge, cylindrical console thrusts up out of the floor. Atop it is a device studded with long, purple crystals.

  • Strange Lore – Intellect task (difficulty 3): To recognize the purple crystals as violet spiral (see Scenario Background).
  • Removing the Jewel: Intellect task (difficulty 6). On failure, the person pulling the jewel out is struck by arcs of blue lightning.

BREAKING THE JEWEL: Deal 10 damage to the Ersatz Jewel and it will explode. (The explosion takes off the top of the Pyramid.)

  • Explosion: 12 ambient damage, Speed task (difficulty 6) to jump down the stairs and only take 2 ambient damage.

REMOVING THE JEWEL: As they begin working to deactivate the Ersatz Jewel, it will begin sending pulses of energy up into the air. The blue lightning will intensify. It’s a race to finish before the rupture occurs.

  • Rupture Race: Must succeed at 5 Intellect tasks (difficulty 5). If the PCs ever have more failures than successes, they’ve failed and the rupture occurs (see Failure, above).
  • Special: PCs can’t fail on the first check. If they fail the first check, arcs of blue lightning (6 ambient damage) course through them. (This still counts as a failure; they’ll need to dig out of the hole.)

Go to Follow-Up

Go to Part 1

The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - John McLaren Park


  • Enkara-ulla identified Node 4: Transamerica Pyramid as a major recursion resonance point.
  • The entire Bay Area contains echoes of this recursion resonance point (and other resonance points).
  • Enkara-Ulla identified the water tower at John McLaren Park (referred to as “Big Blue” by the locals) as the strongest echo of the Transamerica resonance point. This made it an apt testing site for his equipment.


  • The park is a mess of hills with a tangle of paths winding around them.
  • The water tower (“Big Blue”) stands up at the top of the tallest hill and can be easily seen for miles around (most notably from Interstate 280, which passes about a half mile to the north).
  • Despite this, the water tower is surprisingly isolated (up a trail shrouded by trees).


The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - The Water TowerADDRESS: 100 John F. Shelley Drive; San Francisco, CA

From the outside, everything about the tower seems perfectly normal. PCs who specifically inspect the top of the tower may notice the laser sight on the upper balcony.

FENCE: Barbed wire. There’s a single gate.

  • Gate Lock: Speed task (difficulty 1)

ENTRANCE: There’s a single door in the base of the tower.

  • Door Lock: Speed task (difficulty 3)


PIPES: Two large pipes (about 3 feet across each) go up through the center of the tower.

LADDERS: Four ladders ascend the tower alongside the pipes (one to each cardinal point).

CATWALK AND HATCH: At the top of the shaft, the ladders reach a circular catwalk. Another short ladder (about 7 feet) goes up to a hatch that leads into the Reservoir walkway (see below).

GNATHOSTOME: The Strange, pg. 269.

  • Crawling along the pipes or walls. (Should probably put in an appearance when the PCs are halfway up the ladders.)
  • Accessing Cerebrospinal Memories: The gnathostome fed on Enkara-ulla’s cerebrospinal fluid as part of exchanging memories with him. These memories can be accessed (see the description of the gnathostome), revealing that Enkara-ulla’s next stop is the Transamerica Pyramid.
  • GM Intrusion: An attack severs one of the water pipes. Water begins spewing everywhere (creating disadvantage on tasks; possibly knocking a character off a ladder).
  • GM Intrusion: A second (or third) gnathostome shows up.

GM Note: A PC who has their own cerebrospinal fluids extracted could realize that memories have been “sucked” out of them; which might cue them to think about accessing them through the gnathostome.

GM Background: The gnathostome was used by Enkara-ulla as a portal analysis lab. The gnathostome, dependent upon the Law of Mad Science in Ruk, is in considerable pain and agony (and has been simply abandoned here by Enkara-ulla, who has no further use for it).


The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Water Tower Reservoir

Prop: Photo of the Reservoir

WALKWAY: Circles the entire pool.

  • Prop: Flyer of the 48th Floor (With Blueprints on Back) (laying on the walkway)
  • MACHINERY: Several large pieces of machinery are still attached to the railings and walls and so forth. A few long rods of either brass or bronze (although closer inspection reveals them to be of no earthly metal) descend down into the pool.
  • Any inspection of the machinery trivially reveals that it is no longer running.
  • Intellect task (difficult 6): To figure out what the purpose of the machinery was (i.e., rewrite the laws of Earth to allow Mad Science to function normally within a short distance). The key components are all missing, but appear to have been carefully removed (most likely so that they could be used somewhere else).

POOL: The water in the tower has been corrupted with Rukian biology. Several large, sightless fish (several with electronic or biotechnology components jutting out of them) swim around. Notably alien plant life (festooned with softly glowing bulbs) grows thickly. Phosphorescent colonies of fast-moving plankton-like creatures swirl through the dark depths of the reservoir.

  • GM Background: Although the PCs might suspect that this was Enkara-ulla’s true purpose, the corruption of the reservoir was merely a side effect of the recursion rupture that happened here.

WINDOWS: The windows currently present in the reservoir are not visible from the outside of the building. This is because they look out over the landscape of Ruk.

  • GREY FOREST: A vast grey forest sweeps away from the windows. Exotic fungi, globular sporepods, broad mushrooms, tall stalks of fruiting bodies. (Perhaps one of the huge, mobile factories that harvest the fungi forests is lumbering along in the distance.)
  • GM Background: This is a vestigial effect of the lingering energy field. These windows could theoretically be used as inapposite gates (by crashing through them), but this carries a high risk of collapsing the energy field (causing the gate to shut).

DOORS: There are two doors. Unlike the windows, these lead out onto the outer balcony circling Big Blue on Earth.

  • LASER SIGHT TRIPOD: On the outer balcony, a large, bulky laser sight has been positioned above a telephoto lens on a tripod. It looks north and anyone looking through the lens will see that it’s targeted at the tip of the Transamerica Pyramid (just visible above the Bank of America building).

Go to Node 4: Transamerica Pyramid

Go to Part 1

The Strange: Violet Spiral Gambit - Tomahawk Warehouses


  • 8 22nd Street; San Francisco, CA
  • Down right on the bay, although a veritable ocean of shipping containers stacked behind a barbed wire fence separates it from the water.
  • Walls of iron rusted blood-brown.
  • Lines of windows around the upper level of the warehouse, with a lot of broken glass up there.
  • Whole place is surrounded by a fence, with a sprawling loading dock on the the west side (away from the bay).

CARGO DOORS: There are a total of 18 big cargo doors around the perimeter of the building.

  • East Side: EV 1-4
  • West Side: WV 1-8
  • North Side: NV 1-2
  • South Side: NV 1-4

OLD MACHINE SHOP: The east side also has an old machine shop thrusting out of it. (Doors padlocked. Dusty, abandoned machinery from the ‘70s. Might be ventilation access from here into the ceilings above storage garages.)


CRATES: Several dozen crates. A few have been opened and their contents removed. A few have been opened and only partly emptied.

  • The crates contain a lot of machinery components, many of them quite large and almost all of them custom fabricated by a wide variety of firms from the across the United States and China. There’s also a few crates from high-end German companies and Korean electronic manufacturers.
  • Some of the crates were shipped from a local address (Eschaton Electronics).
  • Prop: Eschaton Electronics Shipping Label

CYPHERS: Mixed in with the other equipment are three cyphers.

  • Strength Enhancer (Level 4): The Strange, pg. 329 (takes the form of a multi-jointed mechanical device that attaches over and reinforces the spine).
  • Vocal Translator (Level 1): The Strange, pg. 331.
  • Antidote (Level 6): The Strange, pg. 313 (bulky, mechanical wristband with several glass tubes jutting out of it; when attached, it rapidly cycles the wearer’s blood through the various tubes).

MAP OF JOHN MCLAREN PARK: Pasted to the wall of the storage space.


RUKIANS IN A VAN: If the warehouse is placed under surveillance, a couple of Rukians show up in a white cargo van, unload several crates of equipment into unit WV8, and then return to Node 3: Water Tower to pick up another load.

  • Observing/Trailing: Unless they’ve been given cause, the Rukians won’t be on the lookout for anybody (-1 difficulty on any Stealth-type tasks to avoid being detected by them).
  • GPS Records: The van is equipped with GPS. The system can be accessed with an Intellect task (difficulty 4). On a success, you can pull up a list of location it has driven to (including Node 0: The House and Node 3: Water Tower).
  • GM Intrusion: The Rukians arrive while the PCs are investigating the contents of WV8.


  • They know the general outlines of Enkara-ulla’s research and his intentions.
  • They participated in the test at Node 3: Water Tower and know that it was a success.
  • They were not told the location of the final test, but they know that Enkara-ulla was observing it from the roof of Node 3: Water Tower.

RUKIAN TECHNICIANS (Level 2): health 6, damage 3.

  • Technician / lab assistant tasks as level 5.
  • Note: These agents translated to Earth. They’re in context and look human.

Go to Node 3: Water Tower



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