2400 actual play: Xot

If you’ve ever wondered what 2400 looks like in play, you might find something useful in the thread of links to actual plays and readthroughs on the Itch forum. One glaring omission from that thread, however, has been any sense of what it looks like when I run it myself. I’ll try to fix that now by sharing notes on my first session of a new arc of Xot, a weird fantasy game inspired by Numenera and Vaults of Vaarn, which I describe in more detail in the Xot devlog.

This post contains spoilers for one of the adventures in Weird Discoveries: Ten Instant Adventures for Numenera.

Quick rules summary

If you’re new to 2400, you can find free, three-page “Emergency Rules” on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io, but here’s the short version.

The GM describes what players perceive, and the players describe what they mean to do. The GM warns if there’s a risk to their intended action. Players can either change their mind and do something else, or roll a die see if they can avoid the risk: a d6, or a higher die if something on their character sheet advises a higher die. Sometimes they get a bonus help die (d6), and/or have to roll a lower die (d4) if hindered. Then they consult the highest die rolled:

  • On 1–2, they face the full consequences of the risk.
  • On 3–4, they get a lesser consequence or only part of their goal.
  • On 5+, things go fine.

There are no hit points. If you are advised that you are risking death, you either change your course of action to something that doesn’t risk death, or you take your chances of dying on a 1–2. If the GM forgets to advise what the risk is before rolling, the consequences of a bad roll need to follow from established details, and can’t be death or permanent injury.

There are a few other rules, but that’s all you need to know for this session.

Prepping the adventure

My initial plan for this session was to run a “sample adventure” I plan to design for Alight (a work in progress in a setting similar to Xot’s). In that adventure, an isolated settlement loses the power source keeping its “ward” activated and hostile creatures at bay, so the characters are asked to find a new power source from someplace weird and interesting nearby.

Unfortunately, I was sick a bunch last week and ran out of time to finish the adventure. So, the day of the session, I peeked at my Numenera PDFs, saw that there was an adventure collection, and flipped through three I bookmarked some months ago. One of those, “Mother Machine,” is a mystery about people in an isolated woodland settlement getting attacked and killed by strange creatures. This sounded like a great lead-in to the adventure I originally planned to run, so I prepped to run that instead. If it went well, I figured, we could follow up with the characters going off to find a new battery for the settlement’s ward in a later session.

I designed 2400 to make this exact situation (which have I often found myself in) to be as easy as possible. When you have very few rules, it is trivially easy to “convert” published adventures. Before the game, I did under a half hour of prep, which involved reading a short adventure (3,000 words) and writing down a few brief notes about the settlement and characters. Here are my notes:

Dirus (Numenera) — woodland settlement that lost power to its ward, now residents are being attacked.

Area: Mostly docile creatures, until recently. Woodland clearings with half-buried ruins scattered about. Nearest neighbors are Godshadow (a few days east), The Dome (a few days north).

Radan Sheb — being attacked when they arrive.
Elder Brall — free board to stop attacks, payment in xot.
Adran — just a trader at first (unconscious, later).
Edd & Cyr Erron — attacked, fought beast off with Galken.
Galken — hunter, helped kill beast north, didn’t blow up.
Nowa — husband Tarn killed, “just as things were turning around“ (calmer, kinder lately … grew close to Radan lately, maybe his influence).

The only thing I regret not writing down was an affectation or other personal detail for each supporting character. I think Elder Brall stood out a bit better because I remembered details about her from the published adventure — tall, silver hair, authoritative — but I suspect the other supporting characters felt a little samey. (This is why I try to give little personal details in 20-person lists of supporting characters in 2400 games.) In the end, at least, some characters proved memorable when they lashed out with an elongated, stinging tongue.

The session

We had four players (plus me), and scheduled two hours to play, including time for greetings, explaining the rules of 2400 and Xot in particular, establishing lines we wanted to make sure nobody would cross in play (no sexual assault, no violence against young children or pregnant people), introducing all our characters, a break for water, and a quick pause to say goodnight to my four-year-old.

Our player characters included:

  • Dusty (they/them), a fearless fugitive with fists that can shatter stone
  • Farai (she/her), a horned herbalist with a cloud of glowing butterflies
  • Grey (he/him), a charming gambler with a detachable head that plugs into any body
  • Ime (he/him), a four-armed salvager with magnetic hands

If I had been determined to run it as a one-shot, I would’ve cut a couple things or fast-forwarded more aggressively, but I knew we were planning to play at least a few sessions, so I was happy to let things move a little more deliberately. It was a mystery, after all, so there was a lot of questioning witnesses and investigating things.

Play

The adventure opens with an action scene, rushing to aid a man being pursued by a tentacle-faced quadruped. Dusty decided to smash some rocks to startle the creature. As the GM, I decided this risked being identified as an immediate threat, and suggested this reckless maneuver qualified as fearless, so Dusty got to roll a d8. The roll was a success — the creature was distracted long enough for the man to scramble up a tree, and the creature had no apparent interest in Dusty. Four-armed Ime grappled the beast, which started getting uncomfortably hot, emitting a high-pitched whine, and finally glowing red. I advised him to roll his d8 for four-armed, and he flung it away moments before its explosive self-destruction, knocking everyone to the ground.

Side note on rules adjudication: Normally, the GM’s supposed to explicitly advise of a risk before rolling in 2400, but I forgot to do that in this case. That’s okay — I did telegraph what was going to happen through multiple senses (touch, sound, sight), so “being struck by an explosion” was a logical consequence to roll against. If Ime’s player had rolled a 1–2, he might have been injured, but not permanently; death and permanent injury are off the table unless the GM explicitly warns of them before rolling. Instead, Ime’s player rolled a 4, a partial success or lesser consequence, so he was able to toss the thing and the worst that happened was knocking everybody over for a moment.

The group grilled the man in the tree awhile — Radan, he said his name was. He told them about the recent creature attacks and led them back to his village, Dirus. There they met and asked additional questions of Elder Brall, who filled them in more on the situation. The village’s “ward” fell some days before — not from sabotage or theft, as far as they could tell, but simply because the batteries ran out. Since then, hostile creatures that had been kept at bay had begun hunting down villagers. The village was stretched too thin trying to shore up meager defenses, so the players’ group was promised free room and board while they looked into the issue, with payment to follow in xot — unstable, one-use-magic items you can trade like money.

The group questioned a cranky old hunter named Galken who’d killed one of the creatures the other day; he told them where they could find the intact corpse. There, they found the two people Galken had saved from the creature, Edd Erron and his grown son Cyr, furtively investigating the thing themselves. The group basically proclaimed they were taking over this investigation. They cemented their claim when Grey took off his head and attached it to the dead creature’s body, giving it some clues to its biology.

Side note on a ruling: There are no explicit mechanics associated with Grey’s “detachable head” distinction, but I decided that if you get enough control over a body to use all its limbs, you should probably also get a sense of what that body can do. This also gave some information about the weirdly specific poison the creature produces, which is not toxic to humans. Odd!

The group headed back to the village with the body, and the Errons, who were acting kind of shady. Dusty tried to follow them at the risk of being spotted; the roll was a 1, so the Errons definitely noticed them, and tried to lead Dusty into an extremely obvious ambush. Dusty’s player announced they’d be following, so I advised that waltzing in would be risky — maybe even risking death, depending on what the Errons had planned. If Dusty’s player rolled a 1–2, they’d face the full consequences. Dusty went ahead anyway, and rolled a d8 for being fearless.

Side note on a ruling: Cyr planned to hit Dusty in the head with a branch. Technically, this could kill somebody, but I estimated it’d be more likely to injure somebody. I decided that if Dusty’s player rolled 1–2, they’d get a head injury, like a concussion or skull fracture. I didn’t decide what would happen on a 3–4 roll, but if that had happened, it would’ve taken me just a moment to decide Dusty got hit and knocked over, but not permanently injured. This procedure is meant to help the GM set the boundaries of the worst thing that could happen — which is easy enough to work backward from if need be — not think ahead to every possible consequence.

Dusty’s player rolled a 6, ducking the branch and giving time to react. And so Dusty pulled out a xot — a “temporal annihilator” — and pressed it to Cyr, activating it. Dusty’s player described how the device rewound Cyr’s life, deleting him from existence before his father’s eyes.

Side note on a ruling: Players each started with three randomly-named xot, like a “spatial assembler” and an “atmospheric disruptor.” Normally, they have to roll to figure out what the xot they find actually do, but in this case, I told the players to interpret the effects their starting xot however they liked. (I don’t play with jerks, so I wasn’t worried about anybody saying they destroyed the world and killed everybody in it, but the rules say anybody at the table could veto such shenanigans.) I don’t recall whether I asked Dusty’s player to roll to use the xot in this case, but I often just go along with these things when single-use items are involved. Plus, I was pretty surprised by how “temporal annihilator” was interpreted in this case.

Edd was understandably upset by this, and so lashed out at Dusty with an unexpectedly meters-long tongue. Dusty attempted to react with another xot — a “perceptual regenerator,” which they hoped would conjure a memory of the sight of Cyr, allowing time to bluff that the son was safely imprisoned and could be restored. The risk of a tongue-lashing was obvious, so Dusty’s player rolled a d6, got a 1, and dropped the xot, which played the holographic equivalent of an endlessly looping animated GIF of Cyr’s last moments while Dusty’s face was covered by a stinging tongue.

Side note on a ruling: That xot’s effect was also open to the player’s interpretation, but since the roll was so bad and the time for talk had apparently passed, I figured I might as well play up how ineffectual it was for a laugh.

Ime managed to restrain Edd and chain him to a tree. Farai, the herbalist, gathered some plants to mix into a quick adhesive, cementing Edd’s mouth shut while they discussed what to do. Eventually, they moved out of tongue range and questioned him from afar.

Side note on a ruling: I don’t ask players to roll for stuff like “can we find plants to mix into an adhesive?” If you’re in a forest, you’re an herbalist, you haven’t gotten to do much because your character’s features are a little less obvious in utility, and especially if you could achieve the same effect by just gagging somebody with other commonly found materials, then of course, you can do exactly what you just asked. Not everything needs to be a roll.

Edd offered a vague and bitter testimony in his interrogation, periodically interrupted by sounds in the woods that startled him. “We’re survivors,” he grumbled. “We were here before you.” Before who? the players wondered — before humans? Are Edd and Cyr not human? But before they could question further, one of the creatures crashed through the foliage and struck Edd. Grey attempted to use another xot to electromagnetically disrupt it at risk of being too slow to save Edd, but rolled poorly — the creature was stopped, but Edd was dead.

Side note on a ruling: Throughout this session, I periodically rolled a d6 to test for “luck” to see if more creatures showed up. This is an explicit mechanism in 2400’s GM rules, but when to use it — or whether to use it at all — is left entirely to the GM’s discretion. This scene was the first time that d6 rolled in the 3–4 range, signaling “signs of trouble.” The noises Edd was reacting to were foreshadowing the impending approach of the creature.

The dead creature was a mix of organic and synthetic parts, including a few xot. The characters stripped out the useful bits — a mechanism that makes them explode, plus a few other bits with effects yet to be determined.

Side note on a ruling: When the characters have time to look around carefully, there’s not much risk, and 2400 explicitly advises being generous with information, so I just tell them a bunch whenever they investigate. It’s obvious to the “charming gambler” when somebody’s being less than honest. It’s obvious to the “four-armed salvager” how to strip a synthetic creature for parts. And though there’s a chance to accidentally activate xot when you try to figure out what they do, I reminded the group that they could all help each other study these things, rolling a bunch of dice and taking the highest.

They felt a bit at a loss on what to do next, so turned back to their xot to see what they could use. With one (whose name escapes me), they were able to trace the origin of the creatures to a site a couple miles to the east. Another (a sonic scanner) acted like Superman’s super-hearing, picking up signs of distress for a while, finally zeroing in on a very relevant cry. Adran, the trader, shouted the name of the man they rescued that morning: “Radan? No—!”

They rushed to Adran’s residence, finding him unconscious on his floor. He remembered nothing about an attack by Radan, but it was late — maybe he was dreaming and fell out of bed? He did seem to have a mark on him, though, not unlike the mark Edd’s tongue left on Dusty. They were spotted by Elder Brall, who brought them to Radan’s residence. He was being cagey, and clearly had just been in a scuffle, so they kicked in his door while Elder Brall looked on in surprise. Ime held him down and pressed a hand over his mouth, but Radan stabbed Ime with his tongue.

That’s when the voices started. Only Dusty could hear it — a whisper urging them to kill their friends, and help Radan escape. Dusty’s player described drawing a knife, confused. Realizing that they had a xot that might help — a “seismic shield” — Dusty pressed it on Radan, providing a force barrier that enabled him to bowl everyone over and run away. Now Elder Brall’s untrained town guards are turning toward Dusty, wondering who the real threat is in this situation.

That’s where we ended the session.

Side note on a ruling: 2400 has no explicit rules for mind control or player-versus-player conflict, but it is pretty clear (I hope) that a player is in charge of their own character’s conscious decisions. I appreciate how some Powered by the Apocalypse games offer an incentive to give into mind control, but still leave the character in the player’s hands, so I did likewise: Dusty got a bonus help die to do the voice’s bidding, and would be hindered to do anything to resist it. And so, drawing that knife above, and helping Radan escape, was all Dusty’s player, playing to the situation; another player might have chosen to do that quite differently. I’ll improvise a ruling for PVP another day, as Ime (or his player) seemed to be too bewildered to resist Dusty’s attempt to free Radan.

Next steps

We’ll pick up right where we left off in the next session, unless our roster of players needs to change. If scheduling makes it impossible for Dusty’s player to join, for instance, I’d suggest starting with Dusty already safely restrained, asking players to help fill in the details of what happened in the intervening time.

We didn’t trigger Xot’s unusual advancement mechanism in this session, which lets you increase one of your die sizes, gain a trait, or reword a character feature if your highest die in a roll lands on its maximum, and you choose to turn it into a 1. That rule is inspired by advancement in the Soft Horizon games, but I think it probably works better in that system because you’re likely to be rolling more dice. In our next session, I may try running it a little differently, advancing when you roll a 1 on your highest die. Then it becomes a consolation prize rather than a bitter pill to swallow. In either case, it’s still quite a bit more likely to happen when mind control hinders your roll, forcing you to roll a d4. And with Ime’s hand stinging from Radan’s tongue, Dusty won’t be the only one making hindered rolls soon.

I expect the group will finish this particular adventure relatively early in the session, so I’d better get back to prepping the follow-up adventure I originally meant to run. I was so pleased with how this session went, though, that it certainly won’t break my heart if I need to dig up another published adventure to “convert” on the spot. I may need to do that anyway if it occurs to the players that the thing making the creatures they’ve been fighting probably has a power source they could steal … if they’re comfortable with disabling a security system that specifically targets alien body-snatchers. I look forward to finding out what they decide to do.

Featured image by Tithi Luadthong (Shutterstock)

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