Game Design

Transmissions From The End #14: Reviews & More

Greetings from the End of Everything!

So, thanks in part to the work of our marketing director, a few of our games that have been out for years actually have reviews! How about that! It’s almost like we don’t actually exist in an interstitial dimensional bubble that separates us from true reality and prevents us from interacting with it or being noticed by it in any meaningful way!

The GMShoe’s (Dan Davenport’s) Long-Awaited Review of The Singularity System:
Throat Punch Games’ Review of Psionics (This One’s Even On The Big Nurple):
The Wandering Alchemist’s Review Of SPLINTER:

A soothing balm on the burns inflicted by our tremendous losses at Origins, the reviews range from mostly positive to glowing. Rock on.

If you want to buy any of those games (or the supplements and adventures supporting them), we’ll be selling them at DexCon,  July 5th-9th at the Hyatt Regency & Convention Center in Morristown, New Jersey and of course at GenCon50, August 17-20 in Indianapolis. We love meeting our fans in person, but if you can’t wait till then, our entire product lines can be found on One Bookshelf and at select Friendly Local Game Stores through our distributor, Studio2. Further convention appearances will be announced as the year develops.

Upcoming cons mean revised street-date announcements, so we’ve got those!

We should finally be able to debut the introductory SPLINTER adventure “Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs” at DexCon, hot from the presses, by the exceptionally talented Richard Kelly.

At GenCon, for our major new title launch, we’ll have the Systems Malfunction standalone RPG. I just got done editing the introductory fiction for this one, by the aforementioned absurdly skilled Richard Kelly, and it’s a truly phenomenal read both for people brand new to Systems and to the oldest of oldbies. The playtest period on this one is ending in the next week or so, then it’s a race through art, layout, and printing in the month of July to have it ready to go for GenCon 50.

I’m excited! Are you excited?

<end transmission>

Transmissions From The End #13: Westward Ho! And Sneak Peak: Cooking With Nanites

Greetings real followers and unpersons alike! Just tomorrow, I embark on the “Columbus Trail” with Mikaela, where we’ll set out with our oxen and our wagons to bring a shit-ton of role-playing game greatness to Origins Game Fair, June 14th-18th at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. I hope to see many of you there where I’ll be hawking my wares! Just now I’m obsessive-compulsively organizing the miniatures I’m bringing for the games I’ll be running–a demo of Psionics, the Glory & Gore living campaign which will hopefully gain some traction this year, and two never before scene playtest scenarios for the all new Systems Malfunction standalone RPG–of the to be as close to WYSIWYG as possible.

In the meantime, as I fervently hope to see you there, please enjoy the final sneak preview from the Systems Malfunction manuscript draft. This one is about nanofacturing which has been DRASTICALLY re-worked from the cludgy mess of the old sourcebook. Enjoy!

Cooking with Nanites

Nanotechnology is really complicated, in theory and in practice, in the Systems Malfunction universe and in real life. It is a technology with the possibility to change anything and everything about our lives, and about which we can for now only speculate, and people have been speculating about nanotechnology for decades now across many media. In the minimum number of words and pages, we’ll sketch out the massive role that nanotechnology plays in the Republic while keeping the rules for crafting with nanotechnology as simple and straightforward as possible.

  • By design, nanites cannot self-replicate. This is an inherent design feature hard-coded into the nanites to prevent a “grey goo” apocalypse scenario. It is effectively impossible to hack or bypass.
  • Nanites that are in organic bodies are sometimes called Medichines, and greatly increase the body’s natural healing rate and battlefield survivability while enhancing the immune system and battling diseases. All Organics have these from birth, while certain individual might have specialized nanite hives installed in their bodies that allow them to do more with their nanites.
  • Nanites can be created at planetary facilities and space stations, and can be destroyed by a high-energy electromagnetic pulse, as long as they have not completed been configured into an object.
  • Nanites can be used to build anything and everything, from guns, to medpatches, to buildings. Any handheld object that is “nanofactured” can also be disassembled into its component nanites.
  • Nanites are used as a form of currency, particularly on frontier worlds where there is less of an established economy. 1 Credit buys 1k Nanites. Because they are individually microscopic and invisible to the naked eye, nanites are collected onto “chips” or “casettes” not unlike credit chips. Common denominations are 50k Chips (50 Credits), 100k Chips (100 Credits), 250k chips (250 Credits), 500k chips (500 Credits), 1000k chips (1,000 Credits), 2500k (2500 Credits), 5000k Chips (5,000 Credits) and 1 Million Chips (10,000 Credits). These nanite containers are color coded (green for low denominations, blue for medium denominations, and purple for high denominations) and vary in size from the size of a bingo chip at the very smallest denominations to the size of a small thermos at the very largest.
  • Players should keep track of both the Credits their characters have in their bank accounts and the nanites they have on them.
  • Replicants, who can’t be healed by normal means and who don’t heal naturally, can ingest or topically apply nanites to repair damaged systems almost instantaneously (see p. XX).


While buildings and structures can be nanofactured, and even demolished with disintegrator nanites, that is beyond the scope of gameplay in Systems Malfunction.

The following rules explain how nanites can be used to craft objects in the Systems Malfunction universe.

  1. Access crafting hardware. For most people, this requires gaining access to a Nanoforge, (a million credit piece of technology generally held by major corporations at most large facilities and capital ships). For PCs serious about cooking with nanites, this is probably the nanotech assembler you have already built into your hand.
  2. Download a schematic for what you intend to build. This requires a commlink, a GalaxyNet connection, and a successful Computer Test. The Difficulty Stage is determined by the GM based on the legal restriction level and rarity of the item. The time interval is one minute and the number of successes needed is equal to the cost of the item on the market divided by one thousand. The GM can decide that certain items just do not have their schematics available on the GalaxyNet, like HEAP grenades, BOROS H-TLAW, Hardsuits and other highly restricted military hardware. Note: PCs should be assumed to automatically access schematics of all items which are legally available to the public and/or cost 1,000 Credits or less. Once you have an item’s nano-schematics, you don’t have to re-download them for future builds of that item, unless you lose your commlink.
  3. Deposit a sufficient quantity of nanites in your work space. The nanite cost of an item is equal to 10% of its purchase cost. To wit: a medpatch or commlink requires 25k Nanites (25 Credits worth). A Laser Rapier or Capsilus Arms Hawkeye rifle each cost 400k Nanites (400 Credits worth). A basic Hardsuit requires 1000k Nanites (1,000 Credits worth), and so on.
  4. Start cooking. The skill used depends on what you are building. Electronics for a commlink or Vauggles, Demolitions for a grenade, a Medic test for medical equipment, Armorer for weapons and armor, and so on. If working from an external Nanoforge, each roll requires one hour. If working with an implanted nanotech assembler, each roll takes one minute, and the crafter receives +1 Die. The total number of successes that must be achieved to create a complete item is equal to the item’s Credit price divided by 500 and rounded up (minimum 1).
  5. When you reach the total successes needed, you now have a complete nanofactured item. Rinse and repeat as desired and as time allows.


  • If you want to scrap an item that you know or have ascertained to be nanofactured (determining if an item is nanofactured requires a nanotech assembler and a Comms/Sensors (2) Test: the GM should make the test in secret, because if you use a nanotech assemble to deconstruct a traditionally manufactured item, all you’ve done is destroy that item).
  • Only a nanotech assembler can be used to deconstruct nanofactured items. Nanoforges are not designed to disassemble things made from nanotech.
  • Unless the GM decides otherwise (like if the piece of tech you’re trying to disassemble is very advanced, exotic or unfamiliar), no schematics are needed to disassemble something with a nanotech assembler.
  • Start deconstructing. Only handheld items and personal equipment can be deconstructed with a nanotech assembler. The skill used depends on what you are disassembling. Electronics for a commlink or Vauggles, Demolitions for a grenade, a Medic test for medical equipment, Armorer for weapons and armor, and so on. Each roll takes one minute, and the crafter receives +1 Die. The total number of successes that must be achieved to deconstruct a complete item is equal to the item’s Credit price divided by 500 and rounded up (minimum 1).
  • When you reach the total successes needed, you now have a tidy pile of nanites equal to the amount needed to craft the item. If you disassembled a commlink, you have 25k nanites (25 Credits worth), if you disassembled a katana, you have 100k nanites (100 Credits worth), if you disassembled a Shangdi Type 51 assault rifle, you have 200k Nanites (200 Credits worth), and if you disassembled a perfectly good basic Hardsuit (you monster, how could you!) you have 1000k nanites (1,000 Credits worth).

Limitations on Nanofacturing

  1. Clearly, nanofacturing is tremendously powerful. It lets characters with nanotech assemblers get most equipment at 10% of its normal cost in a matter of mere minutes (admittedly, there are times when you don’t have minutes). It does have some limitations, however.
  2. Vehicles, robots, and vehicle weapons/systems can’t be nanofactured, but nanites can be assumed to repair vehicle Hull during downtime. Assume that the vehicle regains Hull equal to the Engineering skill of a character with nanotech assembler (or a Vehicle Tool Kit) for each hour the character works (+1 Hull for each character helping).
  3. Replicants are much too sophisticated to create through nanofacturing.
  4. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create starships, but again nanites can be assumed to repair starship Hull during downtime. Assume that the ship regains Hull equal to the Engineering skill of a character with nanotech assembler (or an Engineering Tool Kit) for each day the character works on the docked ship (+1 Hull for each character helping), or the ship’s Repairs subsystem if it is performing self repairs.
  5. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create drugs or toxins (see p. XX), except for Replicant “drugs”.
  6. Nanofacturing cannot be used to create support machines (see following chapter).
  7. No technology exists that can safely purge the nanites from an organic’s body. An EMP grenade or two can kill all of a Celestial’s nanites, but doing so also murders the Celestial.

Replicants and Nanites

  1. Replicants can be healed by the direct application of nanites, a Major Action done by the Replicant or an adjacent character.
  2. No test is necessary. Every 1000k nanites restores 1 Health. Up to 10,000k nanites can be applied or ingested at one time (restoring 10 Health), but no more.
  3. A Replicant reduced to 0 Health is beyond the help of Nanites. A Hard (3) Engineering Test taking ten minutes can be attempted—once—to reboot a downed Replicant at 1 Health if its body is mostly intact (this requires an Engineering or Electronics tool kit). If that test fails or the Replicant goes down again, the Replicant is scrap metal until its next backup.


Transmissions From The End #12: Sneak Preview – Just Say Yes To Space Drugs

This is the third sneak peak from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, and it would probably be the last, except I inherited my father’s irrational hatred of the number three, so instead this is most likely the penultimate preview, with one more to come. The topic this time around is the section from the end of the Personal Equipment chapter called “Something No Pill Could Ever Kill” which includes revised and expanded rules and roleplaying cues for drugs, plus new and improved answers to questions about how drugs effect Xel, how Replicants can do drugs, and how characters can become addicted, and then (theoretically at least) get clean.

Shout out to Rachid Yahya, wherever he is, for originating one or two of these drugs and doing the original writeup on them for the now out-of-print Systems Malfunction sourcebook.

As usual, sorry for the janky formatting of the tables.

Something No Pill Could Ever Kill


Most of these drugs are of the “performance enhancing”, not “recreational” bent and are often “prescribed” to appropriate troops by Great Houses or the Republic Military (a dose of Zip2 is standard issue for Colonial Marines going into battle: Red Mist is technically prohibited by the Red Army, but its prohibition is commonly violated). Most of these drugs are illegal for most civilian citizens of most systems most of the time. Of them, Prophecy and Skye are the most likely to be legal or unregulated in more liberal systems. Red Mist, Stardust, and Zip2 are all criminalized on the federal level.

Drug Duration Effects Per Dose Crash* Addictive? Street Cost

(One Dose)

Synthetica 1d6 + 1 Hours per dose Special: see text. 4 Fatigue plus 1 Fatigue per extra dose, and -1 to all tests for 2d6 hours. Yes. 1000 Credits
Prophecy 3d6 Hours Special: see text. 3 Fatigue, -2 Perception and Intelligence for 2d6 hours. No. 1000 Credits
Red Mist 5d6 Minutes +1 Strength, +1 Fortitude, and +1 Damage with all attacks. 5 Lethal Damage plus loss of all temporary Health: note that temporary extra Health gained from taking Red Mist is not lost ‘first’. Very 500 Credits
Skye 2d6 Hours Cost of sustaining Psi Talents is reduced by 1, to a minimum of 1. -1 Perception and Intelligence per dose, lasting 2d6 hours. No. 1500 Credits
Stardust 5d6x10 Minutes Special: see text. 6 Fatigue plus 1 Lethal damage per extra dose. Very. 750 Credits
Zip2 1d6x10 Minutes +1 Quickness; +1 Dice Pool Bonus To Hit With All Weapons. 6 Lethal Damage Yes. 750 Credits

* The minimum that a drug’s Crash effects can reduce any attribute to is 1.

Mechanical Effects of Synthetica: Whenever you take a dose of Synthetica, roll a die. If the result is even, you receive +2 Perception and -1 Cyber (Minimum 1). If the result is odd, you receive +2 Cyber and -1 Perception (Minimum 1). As you take additional doses, keep track of the size of the bonus and the size of the penalty, but keep in mind that each additional dose makes the trip “switch”: the bonuses and penalties do not “level out”. For example: if you take two doses of Synthetica, rolling an odd number for each dose, you are at +4 Cyber and -2 Perception. If you later take a third dose and roll an even number, you are now at +6 Perception, -3 Cyber, not +3 Cyber and +/- 0 Perception as you would be if you were simply summing the bonuses and penalties. Each dose adds 1d6 + 1 hours to the drug’s effect duration.

Finally, for every two points of Cyber bonus you have from Synthetica, you receive +1 die to all skill tests with skills that have Cyber as a governing attribute. For every two points of Perception bonus you have from Synthetica, you receive +1 die to all skill tests with skills that have Perception as a governing attribute.

Roleplaying Notes on Synthetica: Synthetica (other street names include Cynerium and Answer7) is usually ingested in the form of a silver and/or gold capsule that is swallowed. As indicated by its mechanics, the effects of Synthetica are more than a little unpredictable. We’ve waxed poetic about what it’s like to be on Synthetica more than a little, in the braided Systems Malfunction fiction anthology Angels In Jersey City. The shorter version is that when it’s enhancing Perception, Synthetica blurs the barriers between yourself and other people, creating a kind of euphoric, genuine empathy. It blurs the walls between dreams and reality and turns personal boundaries porous. When it’s enhancing Cyber, Synthetica causes a less euphoric, more dissociative, and more contemplative high. The user feels like they have drifted outside of their own body, and they view it from a detached and clinical perspective that allows for a more complete understanding of systems of all kinds and how they intersect and interact.

Mechanical Effects of Prophecy: One hour after using Prophecy, you are tripping balls. All Tests become Hard for the duration of the effect. At some point during the trip, the GM should call for a Hard Perception Test. If you get two successes, you receive a (highly surreal) vision of your future: if you receive the vision, your Advent pool, if any Advent was spent this session, is refreshed. Additionally, you temporarily receive +2 bonus Advent that can only be spent this session. Unlike all other drugs, there are no bonuses or penalties to taking additional doses of Prophecy beyond the first.

Roleplaying Notes on Prophecy: Prophecy is made from naturally occurring, Aetherially active space flora. Sometimes it is consumed by swallowing translucent capsules full of seeds, sometimes by brewing tea, sometimes by inhaling smoke. Because prophecy is a strong hallucinogen, users experience vivid and strange visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as hallucinations that can’t be ascribed to any one sense or combination of senses. Stationary objects may seem to move, static patterns may seem to writhe, mundane objects may suddenly appear scintillatingly beautiful or indescribably sinister, and so on. Characters on Prophecy should not handle or have access to weapons, let alone go into combat.

Mechanical Effects of Red Mist: See table.

Roleplaying Notes on Red Mist: Red Mist comes in a hypo-sprayer and is applied (sprayed) directly into the eyes: the pupils dilate sharply and the whites of the eyes go almost completely blood red. You are an unstoppable killing machine, a humanoid thresher, your enemies but rows of grain before you. Manic rage fills you and it is difficult to stop yourself from giggling and/or screaming in sheer, violent joy. You have the killing fever. Characters on Red Mist suffer from delusions of indestructibility, but are of course unaware that these are delusions.

Mechanical Effects of Skye: See table.

Roleplaying Notes on Skye: Skye is ingested as brightly colored, triangle shaped tablets which are swallowed or crushed and insufflated.  Of all the drugs described here, Skye is the most subtle and perhaps the only one that a character might use unnoticed even by those who know the signs. Characters on Skye feel more alert and intelligent, are better at abstract thinking, act somewhat detached, and feel philosophical and calm about even imminently dangerous situations. It is difficult for them to comprehend the urgency of any given scenario unless they specifically focus on it.

Mechanical Effects of Stardust: Stardust has no mechanical effects except when you are in combat. While you are in combat, you receive +1 Die to all Macrokinetics tests, and you lose 1 Health but regain 4d6 Psi Points at the end of every combat turn.

Roleplaying Notes on Stardust: Stardust is a silvery golden powder which is snorted like cocaine. Its effects are not unlike Red Mist, but for Xel. The first few minutes yield a euphoric rush, after which feelings of manic rage and a sense of invincibility are often reported. Xel on Stardust often testify that they can see and/or feel the psionic energy of the universe coalescing and collecting and flooding into their bodies and minds, causing them to feel sensations of godlike and/or limitless power.

Mechanical Effects of Zip2: See table.

Roleplaying Notes On Zip2: Zip2 is distributed in spring loaded epi-pen style syringes, and injected subcutaneously. The fluid inside is a rather caustic looking shade of green. Like Red Mist, Zip2 creates a state of manic fury in the user. Uncontrollable twitching and tics are a common side effect, as is a total lack of patience and the need for ACTION RIGHT NOW. Zip2 is issued to Armada Colonial Marines for use in combat. While on Zip2, users experience a sensation of time dilation, as though everyone else is moving in slow motion while they are moving and fighting at normal speed, or faster. While Zip2 does in fact make you faster on your feet and faster on the trigger, the adrenaline rush it releases can lead to (sometimes fatal) overconfidence.   Rumor has it that Zip2 is made from processed, fermented Xel organs, but this is widely disregarded as an urban legend.


Just Say No To (Human) Drugs

Most of the drugs listed here are specifically designed for (meta)humans. Accordingly, some of them have different effects on the alien physiology of Xel.

  • Zip2 provides no benefits to Xel, and causes them to feel extremely sick. While on Zip2, Xel receive a -2 dice penalty to all actions. They suffer the Crash effects of the drug as normal. On the bright side, Xel cannot get addicted to Zip2.
  • Crimson Fever is horribly poisonous for Xel. Any Xel who takes Crimson Fever must make a Hard Fortitude roll. If they fail, they automatically fall to 0 Health and begin bleeding out. While on Crimson Fever, Xel lose 1 Health per minute from poison. They suffer the Crash effects of the drug as normal. On the bright side, Xel cannot get addicted to Crimson Fever.
  • Conversely, Stardust has the same effect on humans that Crimson Fever has on Xel.
  • Synthetica largely has no effect on Xel. They must take four doses to receive the effects of one dose.
  • Prophecy affects Xel normally.



Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Smack? (Hooked On A Feeling)

 Obviously, none of the biological drugs described above have any effect on Replicants, since Replicants do not have the same internal anatomy as organics. However, there are digital equivalents for some of the drugs above that do effect Replicants, as well as some drugs that are for Replicants only. Replicant drugs—called chips—come in single use chips programmed to burn themselves out after running one.

  • Synth2 or Synthetica Squared (i.e. Synthetica for Synthetics) has the same cost and effects for Replicants as Synthetica does for organics.
  • Scramble (aka Radio Bye Bye) has the same cost as Prophecy for the most part the same effects for Replicants as Prophecy does for organics, except it doesn’t refresh the Advent pool or provide an Advent bonus.
  • Touchy-Feelies (a variety of street names exist for different “flavors”) cost anywhere between 200 and 1,000 Credits depending on the flavor and the fluctuations of the gray market. Their only effect is allowing a Replicant to feel, for 2d6 hours, an emotion the Replicant is normally incapable of feeling (see p. XX). Actually, ‘forcing’ would be a better word than ‘allowing’. A Replicant normally incapable of experiencing Joy that jacked in a “happy chip” will be happy for 2-12 hours, regardless of how wildly inappropriate that might be. Touchy-Feelies are in the mentally addictive (“habit forming”) category (see below). Their addictiveness varies based on “flavor”, common sense, and GM ruling. For instance the aforementioned Joy chip would be Very Addictive, while a Sorrow chip would likely not be addictive at all.


Addiction and Getting Clean

“I can think for myself, I’ve got something no pill could ever kill
Hey, I’m not Synthetica, oh
I’ll keep the life that I’ve got, oh
So hard, hard to resist Synthetica, oh
No drug is stronger than me, Synthetica”

– Metric, “Synthetica”

If you use drugs, the potential exists to become addicted during gameplay. PCs with the Addiction problem (p. XX) start the game addicted.

Red Mist and Zip2 are physically addictive. Stardust is mentally addictive (“habit-forming”). Synthetica is both physically and mentally addictive. Physical addiction is resisted with Fortitude. Mental addiction is resisted with Intelligence. Synthetica addiction is resisted with whichever attribute is worse.

Each time an addictive drug wears off, the user must make a test to resist addiction using the attribute indicated above: the number of successes needed is the number of times the user has taken the drug in the past. The test is Easy for drugs that are addictive, and Normal for drugs that are Very addictive. Advent can be spent as normal on rolls to avoid addiction.

If the user fails, he becomes addicted to the drug.

Penalties of Addiction: These penalties set in the “morning after” the character became addicted, or at the GM’s discretion. An addict must take the drug they are addicted to every day. If they are unable to do so, all tests are Hard until the character takes the drug (in which case the character is able to function normally for 24 hours before they must take the drug again) or beats the addiction (see below). A character who is addicted can still spend Advent to make a particular test Easy (see p. XX), but all characters addicted to drugs receive -1 Advent for each drug they are addicted to.

Getting Clean: To shake an addiction, first the character must go a full week without using the drug they are addicted to. That means a full week with all tests set to Hard and -1 Advent: withdrawal is no fun for the character going through it, who is virtually crippled by those penalties.

The character then can make a Fortitude or Intelligence test as appropriate (see above). The test’s difficulty is Normal and the character can spend Advent to add dice to the test before rolling it, or to reroll failures, but not to make the test Easy before rolling. Three successes gets the character clean of an addictive drug, while a very addictive drug needs five successes. If the character fails the roll to get clean, they can try again in one week (assuming that they don’t relapse by using the drug again). The character receives +1 die to the roll to get clean for every previous week in which they’ve gone without the drug but failed to get clean.

Note that if a character successfully gets clean of an Addiction that was one of their starting Problems (see p. XX), they must either choose another Problem that the GM agrees can logically replace the addiction, or lose the corresponding Edge and its benefits (see p. XX).

Thus endeth the excerpt…

Check back in a week or so for one last sneak preview, and don’t forget that Origins Game Fair is right around the corner!


Transmissions From The End #011: Sneak Peak – Putting It All Together

Here’s another excerpt from the Systems Malfunction manuscript, as progress continues slowly and steadily. We really ought to get art briefs written up and out before the end of the month, which means we should be able to preview some art after Origins (which is suddenly very soon!).

As any of you following the Kickstarter closely probably noted, we didn’t make one of the Stretch Goals I was most excited about, which would have allowed us to include capital-scale starship combat rules and actual deck-plans for common capital ships in the Systems Malfunction universe. This is a major bummer, but one bright side is that with how far behind we are on a couple of projects, it would have been a nightmare trying to get those deck plans done in time. I still look forward to publishing a book of SysMal vessels, complete with deck plans, in the future.

In the meantime, here’s the chapter on scaling personal and vehicle combat from the Systems Malfunction manuscript. For those backers/fans/players who don’t have the Singularity Core Rules (and the extensive Strategic Starship Combat rules therein), I tried to provide some guidance on how to incorporate big honking starships into your campaign without having their full stats. The formatting of the table is incredibly janky, but obviously, won’t be in the final product, because it’s not being published through WordPress 😛

Astute readers will note that some of the suggestions for running combats involving both infantry and vehicles have changed from those provided in Singularity Core, in attitude as much as in content.

Bringing It All Together

If personal combatants and vehicles are involved in one fight, the shit has hit the fan and (meta)human beings are going to die historic—and become red mist. Some of those metahumans might be PCs.

If you have a battle mat and miniatures, bust ‘em out. Crude sketches are fine, but if you like some production values on your table, that’s cool too. It is very hard to do a vehicles-on-drones-on-infantry-on-Jackhammers fracas using only “theater of the mind” because vehicles can move much faster than infantry and in more directions. You use a vehicle’s Tactical Speed as its move speed in meters per turn. You ignore the ‘change range maneuver’, and resolving other Tactical Maneuvers (see p. XX) as Minor Actions (see p. XX), with Tactical Actions as Major Actions (see p. XX). This enables vehicles to use a Minor Action to take evasive maneuvers.

Instead of 10 seconds like turns with only personal combat, a turn of “mixed” combat is assumed to last the same duration as a turn of Tactical Vehicular Combat: a number of seconds equal to the highest initiative rolled (again: do not think about this too much!). ReAct (see p. XX) applies the same to metahuman and vehicular combatants, allowing extra partial actions after the “all-skate” phase.

Personal weapon damage and personal armor rating are designed to scale directly into those of tactical combat. If a personal weapon looks like it would not even scratch most vehicles, that’s cause it wouldn’t. If on the other hand, a vehicular weapon looks like it would unfailingly vaporize even the toughest, most heavily armored Replicant (and everyone standing next to him) it totally fucking would.

People trying to fight Jackhammers and drone-tanks and attack helicopters isn’t fair. The only chance of it being a fight at all lies with the odd chance that the people involved remembered to bring heavy anti-vehicular weapons.

There is a silver lining to having brought your frail metahuman body to a Jackhammer fight. Humans are very small targets; sensor assisted targeting can’t be used against them and they get to roll Evasion against all vehicular attacks: although ‘blast’ weapons will probably kill them even if they miss. Missiles cannot attack individual humans at all, nor can other weapons you can’t picture being fired at a man with a gun. For a human attacking a vehicle, the base difficulty stage is Easy. That is the last and only advantage humans get, however.

Capital Ships

Unfortunately, due to budgetary and page count constraints, the full rules for capital-ship combat (“Strategic Starship Combat”) can’t be reprinted in this book, which is a real shame. The rules appear in full on pp. 75-115 of the first (2013) printing of the Singularity System Core Rulebook, if you have access to that text. The silver lining to not being able to reprint those rules here is that they were as discovered in play less than perfect, and are definitely less than perfect for Systems Malfunction.

Generally speaking, it is probably best to treat capital ships as “set pieces” in any given Systems Malfunction campaign. Describe a larger space battle if one is happening, but keep the focus on the PCs and their actions (resolved through the rules for vehicular and personal combat). In other words, a Ferrata-Class Heavy Destroyer or a Narcissus-Class Planet Cracker is a location that exciting things are happening on, such as boarding action and defense, or a tense game of cat and mouse with an unknown alien lifeform. When in the course of space combat, a Destroyer that the PCs are assault boarding (or fighting off boarders from) becomes treated by the game more as something that things are happening to, rather than someplace that things are happening on, the likely “realistic” outcome is that a lot of PCs are going to die, very abruptly and without any chance (any roll to make) to survive.

In other words, if the Ferrata destroyer the PCs are waging an epic sword/gunfight on has its hull ruptured by ASGMs and railguns and explodes, the PCs and their enemies are all, most likely, immediately and anticlimactically dead.

On the other hand, it’s likely that at some point in a good, action-packed science fiction campaign-scape like Systems Malfunction, one or more PCs are going to be in powered armor, Jackhammers, or Starfighters, attempting an assault/boarding on a much larger ship. It’s the kind of iconic scene that good military sci-fi is chock full of. When someone’s closing in for boarding action, characters will unfailingly come under fire from (or be firing themselves) point-defense weapon systems. The least I can do is offer the stats for some common point-defense weapons, and the damage they do to vehicles and unlucky individuals alike (all have Piercing 10).

Starship Turret Weapon Accuracy Damage Starship Turret

Point Defense Weapon

Accuracy Damage
37mm Gatling Autocannon 0 24 Flak Gun -1 10×4
Quad Pulse Laser +1 4×10 20mm CIWS 0 15
Grenade Machinegun -1 32 Point Defense Pulse Laser +1 4×4
Gauss Cannon +1 28 Point Defense Beam +4 10

Note that each turret a capital ship mounts can have up to two turret weapons, up to four point defense weapons, or up to one turret weapon and two point defense weapons (when firing a twinned weapon system, i.e. two or more weapons of the same kind on the same turret, the point defense operator receives +1 to his Gunnery roll). While a small torpedo or missile boat or a Prospector-Class scout or Traveler-Class Light Transport mount only one turret each, a mid-sized capital ship like a Ferrata mounts three turrets (each with two 20mm CIWS), a Great Dragon-class Red Army flagship mounts 12 turrets, and a Vitrix-Class Supercarrier boasts 18 turrets. Only attempt a boarding or bombing run on a serious capital ship if you’re part of a massive wave of smaller craft, or if you’re feeling particularly suicidal.

Note that ground and naval bases often have mounted turrets with similar weaponry, although in that context it’s properly referred to as “anti-air” rather than “point defense”.

Closing & Boarding

It takes at least a full combat turn to close to boarding or vehicle weapons range with a capital ship: how long it takes is ultimately up to the GM, based on how far your point of launch is from the target ship, but one turn is the minimum. A Hard Helmsman, Jackhammer Rig, or Pilot (2) Test is required to bring the vehicle within boarding distance of the target starship. During this time, point defense fire must be weathered.

Jackhammers and characters in Powered Armor get to make Evasion rolls against each instance of incoming point defense fire as normal (and at a cumulative penalty of -1 for every Evasion roll made that turn, as normal). Other vehicles such as fighters and drones, however, do not make Evasion rolls. If the Gunnery roll produces a number of hits equal to the vehicle’s Handling (minimum 1), the point defense attack hits.

Jackhammers and dropships (including the Fulminata) can breach and board enemy ships after closing. Breaching and boarding is a dangerous, time-consuming process, because of the risk of fatally depressurizing both vessels. The process of penetrating a hostile hull to deploy a boarding party takes one full turn. It requires a successful opposed test versus the target ship’s Repairs subsystem rating (range of 2 to 6 depending on the size and sophistication of the enemy vessel). The boarding party either rolls Demolitions (for a combat hardbreach), an Electronics test (to rewire an airlock), or a Computers test (in the case of a software override). If the test fails, the boarding party can try again, but not by the same means, and again combat boarding takes one full turn to attempt.

dat room

SPOILER ALERT: I really like the musical Hamilton.

So what’s up guys? I’m going to write down my method for designing a game, and you get to be (figuratively speaking) in the room where it happens.

The room where it happens.

The room where it happens.



No, not THAT Room, for the love of God!

SPOILER ALERT: I might actually be said to have a Hamilton “Problem”.

My method is just my method. My method is not the best method. My method is not the only method. My method was arrived at by designing games, which means my method is informed by the 10+ roleplaying games* I have already designed.

(There is exactly one inaccurate word in the sentence “Devon Oratz has been actively engaged in game design for his entire  adult life”. That word would be “adult”.)


Transmissions From The End #005 – Making Up For Lengthy Silence With Endless Rambling!

Sorry guys, I’ve been really fucking busy. The Kickstarter that is going to jump in about two weeks has been taking all my time getting ready for it. I am about excited enough to poop my pants. So I missed about two installments of Transmissions From The End, so I’ll try to make up for it by making this one triple length!

Guest Shit From Thom Caulfield:

I asked Devon if I could have a guest post and he was like “you can have a guest 1/8th of a post because I have a lot of shit to write get your own fucking blog man” and I was like “I will take what I can get!” so here goes.

I’m sad that I can’t post this to the big purple because fascism (hurray!) which we’ll probably have in real world American in about a month and five days (double hurray!) but here are the sample complications I came up with based on the movies that Fiasco abjectly failed to be the Roleplaying Game Version of.

////FARGO (1998)

* “What kind of trouble are you in, Jerry?”
* “This was supposed to be a no-rough-stuff type deal!”

* “Love ya, hon.”
* “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”

* “… So maybe the best thing would be to take care of that, right here in Brainerd.”
* “You know these are the limits of your life, man! The rule of your little fuckin’ gate here! Here’s your four dollars, you pathetic piece of shit!”
* “Is this a fuckin’ joke here?”

* “That’s a– that’s a fountain of conversation, man. That’s a geyser. I mean, whoa, daddy, stand back, man.“
* “I need … unguent.”

/////IN BRUGES (2008)

* “One of the girls they murdered WASN’T a friend of mine. I just wanted to make you feel bad. It worked quite well.”
* “The little boy.”
* “He pauses, even though he should just hit the cunt, and he repeats, yes, I am talking to you.”
* “That’s for John Lennon, you Yankee fucking cunt!”
* “I’d hit a woman who was trying to hit me with a bottle! That’s different. That’s self-defence, isn’t it! Or a woman who could do Karate. I’d never hit a woman generally.”
* “Would you ever think about killing yourself because you’re a midget?”

* “Harry. I am totally in your debt. The things that’s gone between us in the past, I love you unreservedly for that. For your integrity, for your honor, I love you.”
* “The boy had to be let go.”
* “My wife was black. And I loved her very much. And in 1976 she got murdered by a white man. So where the fuck am I supposed to stand in all this blood and carnage?”

-HARRY (Raiph Fiennes)-
* “How can fucking swans not be somebody’s fucking thing? How can that be?”
* “I liked Ray. He was a good bloke, but when it all comes down to it, y’know, he blew the head off a little fucking kid.”
* “You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”
* “An Uzi? I’m not from South Central los-Fucking-angeles. I want a normal gun for a normal person.”
* “I know I shouldn’t, but I will.”
* “You’ve got the capacity to get fucking worse!”
* “Well obviously I’m not gonna go through you, am I, with your baby and that. I’m a nice person. But could you just get out of the fucking way, please.”
* “Don’t be stupid. This is the shoot-out.”
* “I do want the guy dead. I want him fucking crucified. It doesn’t change the fact that he stitched you up like a blind little gayboy, does it?”
* “You’ve got to stick to your principals.”

\\\\\PHANTASM IV: OblIVion (1999)

* “Mike, that Tall Man of yours didn’t take Jody away. Jody died in a car wreck.”
* “Small Man, your end approaches but it is not yet. Take great care how you play.”

\\\\PULP FICTION (1994)

* “Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!”
* “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.”
* “Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.”
* “Well, I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker!”

* “Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.”
* “Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.”
* “I don’t mean any disrespect, I don’t like people barking orders at me.”
* “I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ race car, right, and you got me the red. ”

* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
* “I specifically reminded her – bedside table! On the Kangaroo! I said the words, “Don’t forget my father’s watch.””
* “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”

* “…Marcellus Wallace don’t like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace.”
* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.””
* “I’m prepared to scour the the Earth for that motherfucker. If [Butch] goes to Indochina, I want a nigger hiding in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his ass.”
* “I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.”

* “Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?”
* “This fucked-up bitch is Marsellus Wallace’s wife! Do you know who Marsellus Wallace is? Do you? If she croaks on me, I’m a fuckin’ greasespot!”

* “I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced. No marriage counselling, no trial separation, I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced.”
* “Did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?”

* ” If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.” (I am going to call out Devon on totally having this complication in real life, because it’s his favorite thing to quote when demanding that me or Mikaela or anyone else to do something in a completely unreasonable timeframe.)
* “You see that, young lady? Respect. Respect for one’s elders gives character.”
* “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.”
* “I get my car back any differently than when I gave it, Monster Joe’s gonna be disposing of two bodies.”

/////BONUS (2016) Moderators/Admins-
* “I love rules! They make me powerful!”

I had more planned, but to be honest, the one-month ban from made me feel like my sample complications would have less of a

If you had any questions about how any of those complications are supposed to work (in what situations would you bust them, in what situations would you raise them, etc, why are their so fucking many for In Bruges.), email

Worlds End. Heroes Die. Systems Malfunction.

I saw what you did there, Thom, and if Harvey Keitel wasn’t so fucking awesome, you’d never have gotten away with it.

In two and a half weeks, I will have been developing this game, this setting, and this world, for exactly 12 years of my life (add 2-3 years if you count the videogames too, which started development in 2001). For that entire time, I have been trying to make it a thing. I feel like I have finally “brought the thunder” enough that I feel like I actually have a chance of making that happen.

This is a very early rough of a single piece of promotional art. It might not be enough to get you hyped, but it gets me fucking HYPED.


Actually, it’s 10 of them. And that makes me HYPED X 10.

I am hereby officially announcing that our Kickstarter for Systems Malfunction the tabletop roleplaying game is launching on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016.

Artificial Nocturne

Accompanying the Kickstarter will be an 80,000 word braided fiction featuring stories from yours truly, Mikaela Barree, Richard Kelly, John Jemmott, and others. While this will give our monowire sharp deadlines to contend with, our intention is to have the first story ready to launch by the 21st and to launch one story roughly every three days thereafter, on the KS main page. There will be 11 stories total.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology set in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to show up why that universe is FUCKING AWESOME: smart, literate, literary, genre-savvy, morally ambiguous, violent, profane, beautiful, science-fiction like you’ve never seen it before, with vampires fighting robots in goddamn motherfucking space.

Most of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the LARP it’s based on. Some of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the amateur CRPGs it’s based on. The rest of them will have to learn as they go.

It is the year 556 R.T…

D-042 “Jersey City” is an artificial nocturne. It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy (our principal characters). It’s just as fucked up as they say. It’s an outsider’s escape for a broken heart. You can buy anything there. Anyone.

They hide out in the back. They are the YWY (pronounced like “Why” singular, or “whys” plural), a sleeper cell of the Fallen that is wide awake. They are kids, all, terrorists all — age 3 to 300. Some of them are 200 year old psychic aliens. Some of them are robot prostitutes. Some of them are psychic cyborg immortal posthuman teenage prostitutes with a grudge against the po.

They are all terrorists. They are all kids.

They are our heroes. This story is about them and the shadow of a life they eke out around and beneath a space station with 250.5 million souls on board and a million stories.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to introduce it while telling a COMPLETELY NEW STORY within it (believe me, I have a LOT I could have rebooted).

Artificial Nocturne is informed by and keys to the album Synthetica by the rock band Metric.

It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure

I’ve had a couple of DicePunk adventures planned for a couple of months. The first of these, “Escape From Cleveland”, a Psionics adventure set during the Republican National Convention, I was really excited about this fucked up and awesome idea. But the closer we’ve gotten to the general election, the more and more terrifying Trump’s inevitable rise to power has seemed compared to his merely possible rise to power  and the less and the less fun this adventure has seemed to write and playtest. I might actually leave the country if/when Trump wins. I don’t know that I’m feeling as keen on statting the fucktard  giant douche in DicePunk as I was back in July.

Instead, what we have coming up for some point in the future is an adventure I like to call No Country For Great Old Ones. It’s southern-fried cops and robbers a la recent incredibly amazing film Hell or High Water only with a ‘dash’ of the supernatural thrown in. We plan on releasing it “quad-statted” for DicePunk (specifically, Phantasm), Delta Green, HERO System 5E (Revised), and Savage Worlds, assuming that we can get all the licensing lined up. It’s going to be the tits.

This Is Entertainment

The SPLINTER Quick-Start Rules are called SPLINTER: This Is Entertainment. It will be a free PDF booklet (some dead tree copies possible for Free RPG day) that will include everything you need to jump into SPLINTER including pregenerated players/Avatars and an introductory adventure. In other words, the world’s weirdest RPG just got a bit more accessible.

It’s currently on schedule for a Christmas season 2016 release thanks almost entirely to one Richard Kelly. Richard: TYVM for keeping this particular ETG assault vessel on track and on target.

In Closing

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks everyone for listening to my blather and turn in next Thursday for another Transmission From The End.