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jameson (ST)

[Review] The Paradox Room (The Strange RPG)

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The Paradox Room

Vitals: Published By Monte Cook Games • 55 pages • $2.99 • B&W PDF (full color cover only)

Some of you may recall back in June when I reviewed Tales From the Ninth World, a short anthology set in the world of the then upcoming Numenera RPG. That product helped to tease Numenera by both giving us a glimpse into the game world, and also giving us an idea of what kinds of stories Numenera was built for.
The Paradox Room does the same thing for the upcoming (expected in August 2014) The Strange RPG. This product is shorter by some twenty-odd pages and one story, which makes this one clock in at two stories of 29 and 21 pages each. Compared to TFTNW the pages are smaller though (when viewed at the same level of zoom through Adobe on the same screen) and so these stories might actually come in shorter than those in TFTNW. That said, the page size seems very good for reading on a tablet, and more than adequate to read on a full sized screen while sitting back (something that usually requires zooming in beyond page width). Format aside though, know that you are getting two short stories, not two novellas.
The first story, The Stranger, by Monte Cook tells the tale of a dragon come to Earth. The creature finds that the way it has passed into our world from its native recursion has removed its power and the laws of reality are slowly killing it as they attempt to force it to comply to the rules that govern Earth. The story is told from divergent view points, one from the first person perspective of the dragon, the other from a 3rd person narrative view of two investigators who find the creature. The creature's first person narration gives an air of personal horror and a view of how our world appears to those foreign to it, while the second story line drives the narrative and gives a view of how player characters might see a story progress.
The second story, Four Winds, by The Strange co-creator Bruce Cordell, is written entirely in the first person and sends us to our first trip into one of Earth's many recursions, or alternate realities. This story also serves as a way to show that recursions need not be entirely alien to the reader/player, as it shows that the stories, myths, and legends of various cultures can have created recursions in millenia past that still exist in the modern day. We see the result of a person's translation into a recursion, complete with their adoption of new abilities that fit into that world's paradigm, and get a hint at some of the threats to these worlds that exist from our own Earth.
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Though fairly short, both stories are as entertaining to read as they are quick, and after reading these I found myself more interested that I had been before in The Strange. Both stories give a good sense at some of the ways that the game will be able to process stories of differing tone and theme even within somewhat similar subject matter. The second story hints at the way that discovering a new recursion could open up an entire narrative simply by virtue of providing a new world and new story hooks.

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As a Gamemaster I can almost look at what is provided here and see that there is significant potential to be able to dramatically alter the flavor of a game session to session allowing a single GM to create a series of linked narrative sessions across a spectrum of genres that all manage to form a large cohesive whole. I can't think of many other games that can say the same and the promise here makes me anticipate the game's launch next year that much more.

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Rating: 90%, provides an excellent taste of the upcoming The Strange RPG's tone, themes, and flavor.

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