This article originally appeared in Pyramid #10
An Introduction to N E X U S
By Robin Laws
This adventure introduces pre-existing PCs from another roleplaying game to the setting of Nexus: The Infinite City. Although the primary focus in Nexus is on playing characters generated as residents of the city of Nexus, the interdimensional nature of the setting makes it possible to import characters from any other genre. Game statistics are presented here in Nexus terms; if you're planning to use another rules set, you can use these as a basis for conversion. The conversion notes for many popular systems which appear in the Nexus game book will help you in converting existing characters into Nexus mechanics, or vice versa.
In "Welcome to Nexus", characters from any genre find themselves in Nexus, a strange city composed of chunks of neighborhoods from all across the metaverse. (This is the all-encompassing term Nexans use to refer to all dimensions in totality.) In the city, one finds bits of high-magic realities, high-tech realities, and everything in between. The only commonality between neighborhoods in Nexus is that all of them are urban environments. Nexus is mostly inhabited by humans and variants thereof, but those who venture far enough into its limitless expanse can encounter virtually any weird sentient life form imaginable. While some of the neighborhoods are "bleeding chunks," pieces of realities that have been sealed off from their homeland and surrounded entirely by other Nexus neighborhoods, most of them still connect to their originating realities. It is thus possible, if often difficult, to get from any place to any other place through Nexus. You can use this introduction to Nexus as a brief diversion from your standard campaign, or as the prelude to a permanent switch of locales for your PCs.
The Big Switch
Some interdimensional connections, or interfaces, in Nexus are big and obviously weird, appearing as glowing holes in the fabric of reality. Most, however, are invisible and infinitely subtle. Like realities cluster together in Nexus: for example, you might find six alternate history versions of Ancient Greece clumped together in one section of town. The borders between these different realities are likely to be completely transparent; most people traversing them won't even notice that they've undergone a series of dimensional shifts as they walk down a Nexus street. It's only as they continue to travel along, and the Greek architecture gradually transforms into Roman architecture, and then into weird Atlantean spirals, and from there into a city built entirely of human bones, that they'll realize that they've been traveling through dimensions as well as through space.
It's this device that we'll use to get your PCs from your current campaign into Nexus. The next time they visit an urban environment, they just happen to enter a neighborhood which is connected to Nexus. In Nexan lingo, such a reality is said to be "in phase with" the city.
Your PCs might be space traders in a planetside trading post, fantasy adventurers in a pseudo-medieval center of civilization, WWII spies undercover in Vichy Regime Paris, or hedonistic undead club-hopping in modern day Chicago. Wherever and whoever they are, tell them they've gotten lost. However they try to reorient themselves, they fail. It's like one of those dreams where the dreamer is trying to get home, but the landscape keeps shifting underfoot. Finding a landmark becomes impossible. As described above, the further the PCs go, the more Nexus neighborhoods they cross through, and the more realities they traverse. As they travel, those realities decreasingly resemble the city they started out in. Passersby look less and less like the normal citizens they expect. Finally they take a wrong turn and end up face to face with the realization that things have gotten strange indeed.
Since the reality shift has been subtle, getting back isn't just a matter of retracing their steps backwards. Realities are always shifting in Nexus, with neighborhoods periodically phasing in and out. Moreover, it requires someone with a special instinct for the patterns of the city to navigate it. Except for certain large chunks, called hubs, where a single reality prevails, Nexus can't be mapped by conventional means. It doesn't exist in linear space. The upshot of all of this mumbo-jumbo is that when the characters try to retrace their steps, they end up somewhere altogether dissimilar from where they started.
Eventually the PCs will decide to stop somebody on the street and ask what's going on. Fortunately, the interface they went through when they entered Nexus changed them somewhat, giving them a basic ability to speak the local argot. Nexan is a creole tongue -- a mixture of many dissimilar languages -- that would give any linguist a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. The PCs don't at first realize that their primary tongues (or trade or pidgin languages, if they speak any) have been replaced by Nexan. Only later, if they try to recall an idiom unique to their own tongue, or listen to themselves on a tape recorder, will they make the connection.
The neighborhood they find themselves in when they decide to stop someone is a nondescript cityscape, with high stone buildings leaning over a narrow laneway. It is comparatively deserted, and oddly free of distinguishing detail. It could be a cramped old-style city from any period in history. The people are scarce, and walk briskly, as if expecting trouble at any moment. Both men and women wear loose tunics, long wraparound kilts, and head scarves that obscure their features.
When asked a question, the response of anyone approached is the same: "Get back to your dwelling, and quickly! Shutter the windows, ward the doors! The Grosteen have defeated our neighborhood watch, and have come back to reassert their turf. They are engorged with combat thrill, and seek to enjoy their vengeance upon us!"
The bystander scurries away, and seconds later the PCs see what must be the Grosteen. They are a group of humanoids with deep green skin. Protruding from their vaguely frog-like heads are dozens of twitching tentacle-like appendages, each about two feet in length. They wear black leather studded jackets, denim jeans, and motorcycle boots. Most of them are carrying crude weapons, such as chains, switchblades, and makeshift clubs.
Due to its ever-shifting geography and general weirdness factor, Nexus is not governed by any sort of central authority. Much of it is in a state of anarchy. Many neighborhoods are controlled by the lowest common denominator of power, street gangs. The Grosteen are one such street gang, a group of hotheaded aliens long ago assimilated to the ways of Nexus. Until recently, they ruled this chunk of the city with a brutal fist; a month ago they were driven out by rebellious merchants. Now they've kicked some merchant butt, and are looking for some more victims to use up the last of their adrenaline on. Unless they're smart and persuasive, they'll choose the PCs as those victims.
Here are some ways to deal with the Grosteen:
• Defeat them in combat. The Grosteen are merely average fighters as turf warriors go. They rely heavily on magical attack spells to keep defenseless folks under their warty thumbs. The number of Grosteen is one more than the size of the PC group.
Bod: 6 Mind: 4 Ref: 6
Brawling +2 (8)
Intimidation +4 (8)
Corrupt Flesh 6
Clubs (damage: 7)
Switchblades (damage: 6)
Chains (damage: 6)
Corrupt Flesh is a standard damage spell. Note that this area is aspected to favor the Grosteens' style of magic. This means that any spells the PCs are capable of casting suffer a +2 bump to their Difficulties, and the Difficulty to the Grosteen is reduced by 2.
• Calm them somehow. The Grosteen's physiology makes them belligerent after a fight; it takes their systems a long time to reabsorb the various aggression hormones they emitted during their attack on the merchant defense squad. If any of the PCs have some ability that would dampen this chemical effect, they can alter the mood of the Grosteen so they're less anxious to mix it up.
• Persuade them to channel their aggression elsewhere. Clever PCs might be able to play to their hostile mood by convincing them that there's someone else who better deserves the beating they're itching to administer.
If the PCs merely duck a confrontation with the Grosteen, the locals remain indifferent to them. But if they somehow drive them out of the neighborhood, they're hailed as saviors. The local people, who call themselves the Jahir, are low-tech artisans. They don't know much about the rest of Nexus, referring to it merely as "The Swirling Beyond." They can answer a few basic questions about it, but those answers will be filtered through their superstitious, agoraphobic perspective on the world. The Jahir offer the PCs positions as watch commanders, offering them comfortable if not opulent lodgings and food if they'll stick around on a permanent basis to make sure that the Grosteen or other hoodlums stay away. The neighborhood of the Jahir could become a base of operations for the PCs in Nexus, as they attempt to familiarize themselves with their new environment. The Jahir will be happy to let them go out and explore the rest of the city from time to time, so long as they're able to keep an effective defense force organized and ready for any intrusion.
If the PCs have driven off the Grosteen but don't wish to stay, the Jahir reward them with a wagonload of their finest ornamental rugs.
Wheeling and Dealing
The PCs continue on their way, traversing subtle borders between more realities. Now you can begin giving them choices. When they come to a crossroads, they see routes to radically different types of buildings. For example, in one direction they see steel and glass towers, while in another they see cathedrals of crystal. If they head to the former, they end up in a collection of high-tech zones. If they head to the latter, they arrive at a series of magical realities. They are beginning to learn their first lessons in Nexus navigation.
Along the way, they come upon an argument in progress. A six-foot-tall humanoid lizard with a face like a Tyrannosaurus Rex is kicking around a trio of humans dressed in camouflage gear. They're generally cowering and wheedling under her attacks, which don't seem to be doing any real harm. She's chewing them out for once again failing to deliver "the product." She calls them the most bumbling excuse for a jacker crew she's ever seen.
She's Jocelyn Brakyo. Aside from being a sentient dinosaur, she's what is known as a "third," a distributor of goods acquired through interdimensional trade. Her employees are supposed to be jackers, specialists in cross-reality exploration who actually find the products and make the deals. Obviously they haven't been doing a satisfactory job for her. Their names are Hugo Munin, Catherine Quinn, and Yuri Strugina.
The encounter with Brakyo can pay off in a number of ways:
• If the PCs have the wagonload of rugs from the Jahir, she looks them over and offers to buy them for 4,000 metabucks. She also assumes they're skilled jackers, since Jahir is a hard reality to find in Nexus. She offers them employment; she needs a qualified group to find a particular high-tech reality that manufactures magic-proof coaxial cable. It's a profitable but dangerous deal, since that reality is in the middle of a civil war, and said cable is considered necessary for the war effort.
• Even without the rugs, fast-talking PCs looking for work could prove their superiority to her current crew. Later, the incompetent trio might seek revenge against them for stealing their gig.
• If she doesn't hire them, Brakyo can still explain some of the basic facts of Nexus life to the PCs. She can also give them a lift back to Angel City, a large and stable part of Nexus; it's contemporary Los Angeles after ten years of cultural drift from all the different kinds of weirdness available in the Infinite City. If the PCs are polite and seem competent, Brakyo can steer them towards employers with jobs more to their liking.
• If the PCs want to find their home again, one of the jackers offers to lead them there for a fee or service. Whether the jacker really knows the place is up to you; chances are that your group will like Nexus better if their PCs don't feel trapped here. There could still be plenty of dangers in store as this less-than-skilled navigator tries to get them through the required neighborhoods to the required interface.
Like all saurians, Jocelyn is single-minded and incapable of understanding nuance. Her main focus in life is business success. She overdoses nightly on inspirational business literature, switching from one system to the next on an almost weekly basis. This week she's all hopped up on the theories of video pitchman Xhonie Blackbirds, whose "Grabbit!" (TM) philosophy teaches people to get what they want by shouting and being so obnoxious that others will cave in just to get rid of them. Play this to the hilt. Jocelyn barks out every sentence, and simply doesn't process any information that doesn't directly relate to her making a pile of metabucks. For all of her outrageous bluster, however, she is an honest third -- a rare breed in Nexus. Following Xhonie's advice, she treats people well if they do what she wants. She will loyally stick by the PCs if they become jackers for her and bring her the profits she craves.
Bod: 7 Mind: 7 (Cha:8) Ref: 4
Accounting +1 (8)
Gun Combat +0 (4)
Hand to hand Combat +2 (6)
Nexan +3 (9)
Salesmanship +5 (13)
Natural Armor: PR & IR = Toughness +1 (8)
Natural Weaponry (claws) Dam:Bod:Str+1
Palmtop computer with customer database
Trans-Datsun Roadcruncher (Jeep)
The Bumbling Jackers
Hugo, Catherine, and Yuri are a trio of losers who came together as a jacker team after each of them was fired by an Angel City security guard firm for sleeping while on sentry duty. Effectively blackballed from the security industry by their well-connected employer, they convinced themselves that they were really cut out for the infinitely more dangerous job of jacking. After downloading a Xhonie Blackbirds infomercial from the computer network Internex, they developed enough of a front to convince the otherwise savvy Jocelyn Brakyo that their determination and desire to win would get them through any tight spots. Unfortunately, on their debut mission -- the magic-proof co-ax cable deal -- they folded at the first sign of heavy opposition. Humiliated, they'd be quite content to find someone else to blame for their own failings. If the PCs show them up, Hugo and company might just fixate on them, and may cause trouble for them later in the series.
Bod: 5 Mind: 5 (Wil:3) Ref: 6
Computer Operation +2 (7)
Gun Combat +1 (7)
Hand to hand Combat +0 (6)
.38 automatic pistol
Light ballistic nylon vest in camouflage colors
Computer printout of Grabbit (TM) by Xhonie Blackbirds
Bod: 6 Mind: 5 (Cha:3) Ref: 5
Alcohol Consumption +5 (11)
Gun Combat +1 (6)
Hand to hand Combat +2 (7)
10 gauge shotgun
Battle axe (huge)
Medium hard armor vest in camouflage colors
Bod: 5 Mind: 6 (Per:3) Ref: 5
Classical Music Appreciation +2 (8)
Compose Poetry +0 (6)
Gun Combat +1 (6)
Hand To Hand Combat +0 (5)
Interpretive Dance +1 (6)
Tobacco Connoisseur +2 (8)
.45 GeNex Metawhacker (medium pistol)
Light ballistic nylon vest in camouflage colors
Personal stereo, copy of Mozart's "Requiem"
Home Again, Home Again?
Now that they've found Nexus, the PCs have an infinite range of choices available to them. They can take Brakyo's offer, try to get back home, or set out on their own course of action. The PCs might want to check out new settings: maybe one of them has always wanted to visit the Wild West, or another wants to find a place to learn the rudiments of magic. Perhaps your players want to send their current PCs on a nostalgia trip to visit earlier PCs in another game setting entirely. Let them decide what to do. If they want simply to return home, leave the interface to Nexus open to them. They may not want to stay there if they feel they're being dragged into it, but knowing they can enter it at any time, they are likely to be drawn once more to the endless opportunities for adventure it offers them.
Article publication date: December 1, 1994
Copyright © 1994 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.