Back in the day, I always wanted to come up with some set of rules or guidelines that would let me move my old D&D group across multiple campaign worlds. I still can’t tell you exactly why the thought of moving them from one world to another was so exciting, but it was. I never got around to it, and in all honesty the entire thing seemed to be more trouble than it was worth – after all, give the PCs ways to move between worlds and they’ll quickly start abusing it. So I shelved the idea and eventually forgot about it.
…until I saw John Wick’s The Flux. This short book, in less than twenty pages, not only rekindled my excitement for a campaign that moves between worlds, but expands the scope of those worlds dramatically, fixes the problems I was encountering, and adds some fun new rules to it all. Let’s take a closer look and see what The Flux is all about.
From a technical standpoint, The Flux presents itself very professionally. It has full, nested bookmarks, and leaves copy-and-pasting enabled. Further, it comes with the necessary formatting to read it on a Mac or as an ePub document. The book is entirely black and white, and save for an alternating page border of a chain and pendant, is devoid of illustrations. And yet, I liked the minimalist approach of its visual design. It really gives a sense that we’re looking at something innocuous, or even deliberately downplayed, which fits with the tone of the book – fluxing is portrayed as a secret only some people are aware of.
But what exactly is a “flux” and what does this book offer?
Described as a “meta-RPG,” The Flux introduces an in-game rationale for changing RPG systems and translating characters between them, as well as offering a few additional rules based around the idea that characters remember their previous incarnations from past games. For example, your character may be a wizard in D&D, but then there’s a flux and the GM pulls out Call of Cthulhu instead, and your character is now a private investigator…who remembers some of the D&D spells he knew before.
Fluxing is nominally described as what happens when the world “dies” and is instantly “reborn.” It’s a cool description for why this phenomenon happens, but I’m not sure how well that works as a concept considering that fluxes seem to happen fairly often (in the author’s examples and from the in-game writing) and because the author talks about cycling through the same select few game systems for fluxes.
But let’s go through the book piece by piece.
There’s a fairly strong piece of opening fiction where a character is describing fluxing to another character before we move on to the rules. The author keeps a very conversational writing style throughout the book, often referring to himself in the first person, which was more entertaining than I thought it’d be. There’s no chapters, but the book is broken down into a number of sections and subsections.
The Flux tells us that when a flux happens the Game Master translates the PCs into their new incarnations – that is, he literally makes the PCs’ stats for the new game system they’ve fluxed to. All PCs also use the new ability score presented here, Memory, which determines how many of their previous incarnations they recall and correspondingly how many changes they can make to their GM-written PCs.
I personally shook my head a little at this section. Character creation is one of the areas where the players have near-absolute, if not total, control over how things turn out. Having the GM write up their new characters while letting them make only a static number of alterations certainly made sense – in a new incarnation, you don’t get to choose who you’ll be – but I know that if I did this my players would likely rebel. Personally speaking, I’d invert this rule; I’d let the PCs write up their own new characters (with some guidelines about how powerful they should be apropos to the game system) and then the GM gets to make a number of changes equal to each PC’s Memory score.
Of course, your Memory isn’t a static number. You can, in fact, fail to remember who you were before a flux, though there is a way to be awakened to your previous selves’ memories. Likewise, your Memory score can be increased by certain things.
The major aspect of Memory, however, is what the next section of the book covers: that you remember your previous lives’ skills and abilities, and can try and use them in your current world – these are known as Recall. Like the private eye with the memories of a mage, you can have a character use those powers even if they don’t necessarily fit with the genre/game system you’re currently using. Of course, you might fail to translate that ability to your current world, and even if you do use it there’s no guarantee it’ll work the same (different world, different rules).
It should be noted that bringing in powers from the old world(s) isn’t something your characters get freely. The more they do this, the more likely they are for the world to notice that something’s happening that shouldn’t be. If the world does notice, then there’s Whiplash, where the world tries to deal with the problems that your character is causing. This usually ends badly for the character. And then there’s a brief note about Slippage; rarely, something more than just memories will make the transition to the new world…
Roughly the last third of the book is meant for Narrators; that is, people who run the game (e.g. Game Masters, etc.). This covers some of the basic questions about fluxing, along with presenting some ideas for how things could work in various fluxed worlds. Finally, we get the resolution to the opening fiction, which I quite enjoyed.
Ultimately, I found myself highly impressed with The Flux. The idea it presents is exciting and offers simple yet novel way of easily transitioning from game to game while keeping continuity for flux characters. The few rules it introduces are simple, yet serve to highlight what makes fluxing an addition to a game, rather than just an excuse to start using a different system. The remaining guidelines are helpful without being restrictive, letting you go your own way where you differ from the author’s presentation (as I did in a few places). Finally, the writing is top-notch, being all the more intriguing for its casual tone.
If you and your players want to transition game systems without having to start everything over, if you love the idea of characters and plotlines that span worlds, if you want to see a little more of one game take place in another, then pick up The Flux. New worlds are just a flux away.