Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of Myst and Beyond: Age Creation Checklist

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of Myst and Beyond features a fantastic set of tools for creating Ages: alternate realities and worlds that often feature unique natural resources, a single altered physical law of reality, or some ingenious, steampunk-inspired piece of esoteric machinery worth exploring. Like so many Fate-based games, there’s a great discussion of creating these sorts of worlds and translating them into location Aspects that can be used to many, varying effects.

What follows is a stab at expanding the Age creation system, with an aim at providing more specific locations and conflicts to be explored. Additionally, there is a simplified framework from which improv-lovers can develop semi-randomized Ages, giving players a chance to really shine in defining Aspects of an Age, or using the Deduction rules to add details and variety to an existing Age.

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of MYST and Beyond

Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of MYST and Beyond

Age Creation Checklist

Follow this extensive checklist of questions and subjects to develop an Age you wish to visit over and over again. It aims to provide lots of specific areas, inhabitants, and mysteries that can be experienced individual or interconnected to create a detailed history and numerous conflicts for the characters to explore.

Feeling Out the Aspects

What is the theme and mood of this Age?

Theme. The Age’s theme is a single word or short phrase that sums up a lesson, concept, or value that the Age symbolizes.

Mood. The mood is the general “feel” of the Age, and determining it helps to provide cues on what weather, terrain, and other features might enhance that mood.

Both Theme and Mood often relate directly to the Age’s primary Aspects, so simply follow the advice in the Unwritten rulebook and expand upon the Aspects with this and later portions of the checklist, using them to create a more descriptive run-down of the Age.

Inhabitants

Are there inhabitants?

Determine the nature of any inhabitants of the Age, past or present.

  • Human/DRC
  • D’Ni
  • Non-human, such as Bahro, or alternate human-like creatures
  • Animals that provide insight into natural resources of the Age, or apex predators that present immediate opportunities for conflict

Determine whether these inhabitants are native or interlopers, and how they might view other natives or interlopers. Natives will generally have a long history, and their own internal conflicts, while interlopers may introduce new mysteries from other Ages (for foreshadowing), or seek some other resource from the Age that the natives don’t want to give up.

Are there flora/fauna of note?

There are three important traits of flora and fauna that make them especially useful in an Unwritten campaign: how dangerous are they, can they be used as a resource for other means, and what special characteristics make them different from “normal” Earth-based flora and fauna.

Dangerous? If some native plant or animal is important, there’s a good chance it’s either dangerous or useful to someone. If it’s dangerous, consider how aggressive it is and what things might set it off. Since Unwritten doesn’t focus on combat, but rather physical and mental challenges, find ways to provide clues about the nature of the danger and the circumstances that might activate the danger. These clues can then be used by enterprising players to determine how to avoid its source, use it towards their own ends to defeat an enemy, or reveal other aspects (or Aspects with a capital A) of the Age.

Useful as a resource? If the animal or plant is not dangerous and you still want it to be important, consider how it can be exploited by others, for good or ill. Perhaps it is especially nutritious or has a dense structure or coating useful for building fortifications. Maybe it has some other trait that interacts with another natural feature of the Age, such as high-pitched whine that activates crystallized rock and makes it malleable.

Special characteristics? Determine how the special characteristics of the creature or plant can be interacted with and perceived, as this might prove more useful to the campaign than the creature/plant itself. Special tracks, strange blood or a sticky film left behind, interesting sounds or smells — all of these things are excellent fodder to introduce to your players before they ever come across the creature or plant itself.

Physical Features

What are the special natural resources?

Most Ages feature at least one physical law that is different from Earth’s, or some special substance that is outside the realm of common knowledge. Consider the inhabitants, flora and fauna, and weather of the Age and determine if there might be something cool you can add to heighten the effects of these things.

In some cases, it need not be a natural resource that shows how the Age differs from others, but some type of stark natural or man-made feature. In any case, this feature should have some means of being interacted with, even if it’s just traveling through it to reach some other site or resource.

What are the terrain and weather like?

Terrain goes hand-in-hand with resources in many cases, but terrain coupled with weather can often provide specific “theme” and “mood” enhancers. Consider how an over-abundance of any one of the four classic elements — fire, earth, air, and water — can enhance the feel of the Age, and create very specific barriers to travel and movement. Think about how urbanized or desolate the Age feels, and add weather and terrain to match.

Atrus

If he says, “Oh, one more thing” one more time, I’m gonna find a self-destruct lever to pull. ‘Cause that’s how we roll in Myst.

What installations exist in this Age?

Not every Age needs some kind of giant, gear-work dam or sprawling food production factory operated by pulleys and levers, but if an Age was visited by the D’ni, there’s a chance that they built something there, even if it’s just a gazebo to look out on the gardens.

D’ni. Remember that the D’ni use esoteric and archaic technology to impede free movement, to operate machinery, and to secure things that hold meaning to them, such as books, artwork, and resources.

DRC. The DRC isn’t known for building new structures, but would block off dangerous or unknown machinery, repair damaged areas or broken machinery they could identify, and occasionally setup offices from which to perform further investigation and study.

Other. Natives obviously build homes and forts if they are capable of doing so, and other interlopers may create temporary hideouts or laboratories depending on their motives.

For each installation, answer the questions on the list below. Better yet, create more specific questions based on them, giving players a chance to use the Deduction system and investigative skills to come to their own conclusions.

  • Intended purpose?
  • Notable machinery or stored goods?
  • Security?
  • Why was it abandoned?
  • Who might come looking for it in the future?
Obduction, by the creators of Myst

Obduction – If you build this Age randomly, you are prescient!

Semi-Random Age Formula

Instead of tackling a big checklist of stuff, come up with a single, short, off-the-top-of-your-head answer to the following three questions, and then spend your real brain-power on the Developments section that follows. This will give you a barebones framework that you can drop the players into when the Link to an Age you haven’t had time to develop in detail, and then allow their use of Deductions or investigative abilities — and snippets of ideas that they present in conversation among themselves as they explore the Age — to create an interesting place.

Alternatively, have your players come up with a few answers for the three questions, then separate from them to work on the Developments. This gives you a big “mind map” of possibilities, keeping you on your toes, and allowing the players to have some input, or to use their Deductions without you having to flail about for answers on the spot.

The Trifecta

1. What are the places to investigate?

Are the players going to spend their time exploring ruined installations, abandoned native homes, or DRC laboratories? Or will they be exploring the countryside, unsure of what the purpose of Linking here was in the first place?

2. What conflicts exist in the Age?

Inhabitants. Are there current inhabitants? Why are they there, and what do they want? More importantly, what made them settle here in the first place, and who might seek to disrupt that?

Interlopers. If the players have come here, there’s a good chance others might follow, for the same or conflicting reasons. Who might work at cross purposes to the players? Who might seek to exploit a natural resource or an existing facility?

Man vs. Nature. Perhaps the terrain, special characteristics, or native wildlife is enough of a draw for an Age. If so, how might it impede the player characters? What strange properties are exhibited in this Age?

3. What connections does this Age have to other Myst mainstays?

Consider how this Age connects with:

  • D’ni Linking Book libraries
  • other Ages
  • D’ni people (NPCs) or history – characters like Gehn, Aitrus, etc.
  • the Fall of D’ni
  • the DRC
  • Yeesha

Developments

List several possibilities for each of the following concepts or questions regarding some major aspect of the Age. With only a few concrete ideas in place and then a handful of possibilities that can be applied to these ideas, the players can end up giving you all the clues, cues, and leading information to build an entire Age.

  • Purpose or historical events that occurred in the Age.
  • Reason the Age was abandoned.
  • Inherent dangers of the Age.

Based on the characters interactions in the Age — with each other, with the inhabitants, with interlopers, with the mechanical features of the game such as Deductions — you can then either choose the results that prove interesting, or assign the different results a number on a die and roll the die to see what comes up.

Fitting together these disparate ideas will prove fun for the GM, and because there will be player input and guidance, they players will feel especially proud of their discoveries, even more so if you keep the fact that it was randomly determined hidden from their knowledge.

Conclusion

These two forms of Age creation should give you some excellent tools to expand the rules presented in Unwritten. Look at this as both an addition to the existing rules, as well as two alternatives: you can be as systematic and list-driven, or as freeform and player-driven as you like when creating an Age.

A checklist like this, or ideas for a freeform Age, should be fairly applicable to any other world-traveling game, such as The Strange, or a multiverse setting for genre-hopping games like GURPS. Just file off some of the D’ni and DRC-specific ideas (or repurpose them), and look to the Unwritten rulebook for ideas on how to apply puzzles, mysteries, and the Deduction system to your game of choice.

How do you plan to use the Age creation rules? What Ages or alternate worlds have you created for your games like Unwritten, The Strange, and others?

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One comment on “Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of Myst and Beyond: Age Creation Checklist
  1. Draconian says:

    An excellent article on designing Ages. I looked around here because I was inspired to make an Unwritten adventure with a set of 3 D’ni ages which interrelate to produce a resource. There are revivalists in the underground D’ni city of Ae’gura who want to restore their part of the city to its old glory, but they have to resurrect the resource supply-chain and, for that, they have to think like a D’ni. I want to make a set of Deductions that will delight my players and, not only that, there are other human factions who might NOT want to see them succeed.

    The general flow of the suggestions would work in a generic science fiction game to, to design a new planet to explore, if it was of the “fallen civilization” type.

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