Nexus: As Above, So Below

I have perhaps alluded to my first rpg system, Nexus, in previous posts. It was a universal RPG with stats derived from Legend of the Five Rings and point-based traits like Tri-Stat. It lasted a summer before getting supplanted by Savage Worlds as a ruleset for me, but the setting itself lives on in all of my games. It also features heavily in my greater design philosophy, so this is as good a time as any to address some of my long-range goals.

The Nexus is a multiverse of related dimensions I created in 2005. Some planes are closer to others and people and objects sometimes slip back and forth. (This is the cause of the Mandela Effect, and is explored more fully in my Forgotten setting.) Some planes have learned to open these gates intentionally, as in the Nexus prime setting I run true Nexus games in. Other times, it is an excuse as to why New Salem (and the associated university) is usually in Missouri but sometimes in Virginia.

It is a primary consideration in this world that things echo. People, events, emotions… Some things have such a tremendous impact, such a specific gravity that their influence is felt across multiple planes. These are akin to the fixed points in time for Doctor Who, or why certain supers crop up in every dimension of their respective comics universes. Certain archetypes are common across the Nexus (and commonly include the PCs, natch) so there’s the distinct possibility as you move among planes that you will discover your double. PCs, in this setup, are unique expressions of these universal archetypes.

For my anime-influenced steampunk setting Steelheart Skies (and related adventure books and stage play), this becomes the basis of the magic system, sensing and affecting echoes and rhythms as a form of spiritual or magic power. You can realign someone’s resonance to heal or change them or “hear” things that happened in a place long ago or sense the imbalanced echoes of a steamship’s engine. Ghosts are the echoes of human lives and terrible events can poison an environment with echoes of their dark pasts.

From a cynical place, it means I can reuse my favorite ideas in a couple places and there’s a rationale for how that isn’t just lazy writing. The most prominent feature in most games will be Easter egg-style connections across multiple products, where NPCs will echo across various games and show up as reflections in other time periods or whatnot. One expression of it will be in my planned audiodrama, where voice actors will play each iteration of their archetype across the length of the program, so losing a beloved character is a temporary setback until we meet their reflection two worlds later.

But for me, it’s about being thorough with a premise: how many ways are there to explore certain ideas, and how does adjusting that and tweaking the situation freshen that concept and let us view it through an additional lens? By visiting and revisiting scenarios with small tweaks, we can almost scientifically reveal subtleties across different moments. How does the scene change with little shifts in characters when we visit a new world and these new elements play out?

The idea has grown on me over the years. I originally designed the world hopping to provide variety and let my games wander through genres as I pleased. An arcane steampunk arc into a near-future sci-fi to low fantasy. Just drop in and check out scenic elements from games I like but can’t ever get a campaign going in. And the first crossover was more of an Easter egg when a former PC had a villainous reflection in another setting in the next campaign (evil Viktor Von Volt ran a mech fighting league in a world where prisoner/gladiators fought to maintain their machines and struggled to a portal out of there at the top of the arena). I went deeper in a later campaign with call-backs to previous campaigns the players were familiar with, and even snuck some spoilers for our unrelated Shadowrun campaign into an Earthdawn-flavored adventure. A player in the first Nexus campaign has had her character ported into five other campaigns using four different rulesets (including a D&D 5E campaign I didn’t run) and even showed up in a Don’t Rest Your Head one-off when another player spotted her in the Bizarre Bazaar (Not my plan, and the original player wasn’t even in that game! She’s delighted that her character keeps moving without her).

Basically, this Nexus concept is my ur-campaign, my Dark Tower. Everything I’ve ever run has on some level been a Nexus game, since the multiverse reaches across the bounds of space and time. And the horizon keeps receding, since eventually you folks will be playing games in my settings and the boundaries of the Nexus will expand. I’m toying with an audiodrama concept that will put some of these concepts and characters front and center, and taking notes on how the fractal character idea can be mapped onto a series of one-shots to link them loosely into a Nexus campaign. There’s a lot to explore when the premise is “every world, in every genre, across every system” but my approach is still pretty specific in how I use it, so I hope diehard fans are exciting to discover the little connections between worlds that makes them all part of the Nerdhaus/Nexus lineup.