Tabletop Roleplaying

Transmissions from The End #18: No Country For Great Old Ones

So, while all my many haters will definitely scoff loudly at this, I’ve never really felt comfortable tooting my own horn. But, now that I’ve reached the point where I pay other people to toot my horn, I figure that stepping it in to toot it myself from time to time is really the only decent thing to do. It’s like…really it’s my horn. I bear some responsibility.

No Country For Great Old Ones is an RPG adventure scenario that is coming to the Kickstarter machine in the next two weeks (yikes) based on an idea I had for a Delta Green adventure well more than a year ago. It is not in fact a Delta Green adventure (as of the time of this posting: I will probably figure out some way to release it ported for the DG rules, possibly for free, as long as the KS funds). It has statistics for DicePunk, and is officially licensed and compatible with HERO System and Savage Worlds, which is kind of a big deal, and so it goes without saying it’s gonna have FRED and SW stats too. And it may not stop there. Depending on where we wind up with the Stretch Goals, we might have officially licensed crunch for upwards of six other game systems. If you build it, we will crunch.


Two Sides To Every Story

No Country For Great Old Ones is in the so-played-out western neo-noir crime/Lovecraftian-conspiracy-horror subgenre. The truly cool thing about this adventure in my opinion is that it does this mini-Rashomon type thing where it can be played either from the “A” side of the adventure where you’re law enforcement types, or the “B” side of the adventure where you’re the criminals, and we actually suggest you do play it both ways to get the whole story or at least to see two very different interpretations of what happens.

Each side has what are I think really strong pregenerated characters but obviously I wanted either side of this adventure to be able to be slotted into anyone’s ongoing campaign here which means they can be thrown out the window in favor of established PCs. And in fact, we will provide guidelines for just such figurative defenestration (hooking in established PCs instead of the pregens) in the adventure itself, specific to our level of expertise in each system the game is translated for. All that being said, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the pregens since they’ve been around over these past couple of years, so I’m going to use their names when I lay out the two sides to the story.

Oh, and this was all vividly inspired by the exceptional 2016 film Hell Or High Water, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David McKenzie. I can’t recommend the film enough.


An elderly Texas Ranger within weeks of his mandatory retirement date, Marcus Bridges represents a classic Western stereotype–the man who has lost touch with time, and knows it, the man for whom, like Stephen King’s Roland or any number of classic western heroes and anti-heroes, “the world has moved on”.


The character of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell from Cormack McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is the iconic example: an old timer whose memories of a more idyllic west don’t allow him to truly conceive of the chaos and carnage of modern times.

Like many other western antiheroes, Marcus is also rough, gruff, surly, ornery, and generally unpleasant.  As Marcus Bridges represents the longing for the tranquility of the past, his long suffering partner Jorge Quesada represents the uncertainty of the present. He quietly tolerates his incessant politically incorrect barbs about his Latino heritage out of a sense of profound respect for the man’s experience…while worrying that Marcus is looking for an opportunity to die in a blaze of glory rather than face the slow decay of retirement.

US Marshals Roger Barrister and Gina Torres are not “really” US Marshals. They belong to a fractured, fractal conspiracy within the various agencies of the US government and the interstices and interfaces between them. Call it “the Shop”.  Agent Barrister and Agent Torres attach themselves to the Rangers’ case, and of course, they too want to catch the bad guys (and make sure that the situation never becomes publicly visible). They know things that you aren’t cleared to know.

And the bad guys that are taking more than money from the crime scene. Things like fingers. Things like eyes.

…And Robbers

The Quinns were a crime family in the deep, dark, muddy backwaters of the Lousiana Bayou since the turn of the 20th century or even sooner. Throughout the years they’ve operated as smugglers and trafficked in moonshine, “white slaves”, gun-running, and meth. Unsavoury rumors persist about the Quinn clan intermarrying with things from the Black Bay region…inhuman things.

The ghastly rumors about the Quinn family are true. Alectra’s mother Annabelle met her Deep One daddy some time in the late 80s and she followed family tradition. By the time of Hurricane Katrina, Alectra was already beginning to show signs of the change (see appearance).

Jimmy was always shy growing up and he still seems nebbish and retiring much of the time when he’s not in the midst of committing an armed robbery. He was a shrimpy little kid growing up, and a magnet for bullying, and he tends to be quiet and keep to himself. The love of his life is Alectra Quinn, who washed up on his doorstep when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans in 2005. The two are now happily married and love, but Alectra isn’t entirely human and Jimmy isn’t entirely sane. However, deep down, he knows that the Deep-One Hybrid he’s in bed with is more than just his true love, that she’s evidence of a world of hidden wonders and horrors that the average “normal” person will never, ever witness or comprehend until it’s too late, and they’re dead. Jimmy takes great satisfaction in that.


Here in the dry Texas heat, Jimmy “The Squid” Quinn is a ways from his home in the Lousiana Bayou. He met Chris Foster as his cell mate at the Federal Penitentiary in Pollock, Lousiana while he was doing a five-stretch for armed robbery. Jimmy got out first and gave Chris his contact info, and Chris contacted Jimmy for help on the job. Jimmy brought along his partner in crime, and in love.

Poor white trash from birth, Chris Foster has a criminal record a country mile long, gradually escalating from vandalism and aggravated assault to armed robbery (mostly gas station and convenience stores). Just out of prison on parole, and he was already thinking about the kind of hell-raising that would get him thrown right back in again. But then his straight-arrow brother, Taylor, with whom he’s had a very rough relationship, suggests a more ambitious plan. One which involves robbing a large number of banks in a short period of time.

A wildman outlaw, Chris was born into the wrong era. He takes genuine joy in the chaos and violence of the rough life of a career criminal. It’s not institutionalization–he hates being in prison–it’s just that he feels like the best use of his freedom is raising hell. Various lawyers working to reduce Chris’s prison sentences and increase his chance of parole have had psychiatrists (mostly correctly) diagnose him with anti-social personality disorder, ADHD, sociopathy, and oppositional defiant disorder, which Chris dismisses as “a bunch of bullshit”. His hatred of police and other authority figures is downright pathological. Deep down, he is badly scarred by his alcoholic father’s abuse, and resents his ailing mother for dying while he was in prison. The only person he cares about is his brother Taylor, who he’ll treat like shit, but ultimately, will do anything for. While Chris likes to appear dim so people underestimate him, he’s a lot smarter than he appears.In fact, he’s smart enough to know that he’s not meant for this world–a relic of another age–and is willing to die in a blaze of glory, laying his life down at the right moment.


Chris Foster’s brother, Taylor has dealt with their poor white trash background and their abusive alcoholic father in the exact opposite way as his brother, by keeping to the straight and narrow in life. He did his best in school, got through some college, met a woman, had kids that are now teenaged, and got divorced, all without once spending a night in a jail sell. Now his ailing mother has died and Texas Heartland Bank stands ready to foreclose on the Foster ranch. Two other things have happened that have given Taylor the glimmer of an idea. His brother is just out from prison, and oil has just been discovered on the ranch property.

Taylor grew up in poverty and has a plan to finally drag his family out of generations of poverty. His plan is meticulous and if everything goes according to the playbook, he’ll be able to pay off the reverse mortgage on his mother’s ranch with their own goddamn money, laundered through an Indian casino, and they’ll get off scot free. The only challenge is going to be keeping his wildcard brother–who doesn’t believe anybody ever got away with anything and acts accordingly–and the even less trustworthy help that Chris brought on board.


And that’s all I can say about that. I really can’t go into any more detail about how the Mi-Go, Yig the Father of Snakes, or the Screamers from Phantasm(2010) may or may not be involved. Look out for our Kickstarter coming scarifyingly soon. But some time time before Halloween. Um…boo.

<End Transmission>


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 #010: Sneak Peak – Extra Lives

An excerpt from the Systems Malfunction roleplaying game manuscript:

Extra Lives

Human cloning is an established technology in the Systems Malfunction universe. However, as cloning works a little differently in every sci-fi setting, we need to be a lot more specific about how clones work here. An amusing anecdote illustrates why. During a playtest/promo game, a group of actual play podcasters were faced with a scenario where they had to evacuate as the colonists from a planet under invasion by aggressive, biomechanical aliens (if you’re your group’s GM, see In Keeping Secrets, p. XX, and Robots, Monsters, and Worse, p. XX). There were too many colonists to fit in the dropship along with the Colonial Marine PCs, so the players assumed they could avoid leaving anyone behind by decapitating all of the colonists—after all, their heads would weigh less than their bodies and take up less space!—and then have them cloned later.

That is most emphatically not how cloning in Systems Malfunction works, and acting on those assumptions would have been a disastrous mission failure. They would have brutally murdered all of the people they were there to rescue. I found this misunderstanding hilarious, but also enlightening. It was an eye opening reminder that just because I’ve been immersed in the Systems universe for over a decade, newcomers to the setting don’t automatically know its nuances and details.

Here is an overview of how cloning in Systems Malfunction does work:

  • Clones are essentially “extra lives”. All Player Characters start with three clones (see p. XX) but may “sell back” any number of them during character creation, receive +1 Edge per clone sold back (see Building Your (Tragic) (Anti)Hero).
    1. After a character dies, there is a 24 hour waiting period before their clone becomes available as the clone is thawed and awakened. It may take substantially longer than that for the character to rejoin the action, depending on where they have decided to store their clones and what arrangements they’ve made beforehand. If a PC dies, this should be worked out between the PC and the GM. If the character was an NPC, it is at the GM’s discretion how long it takes for the NPC to reappear, but the minimum time is still 24 hours. Only important NPCs have clones, and the average Joe Galaxy doesn’t have any clones.
  • With currently existing technology, a clone can only be “copied” from a living being. Preserved genetic material (or a bunch of heads in a garbage bag) is not sufficient to create a new clone from.
    1. Clones are very expensive. Creating a clone of your character costs 100,000 Credits multiplied by the number of times you have had your character cloned. In other words, creating a third clone of a given character costs 300,000 Credits. Any clones you started with don’t count towards this cost multiplier.
    2. Every clone has 10 less Purity than the “generation” which proceeded it. See Purity & Consequences on p. XX and “Spiritual Machines” on p. XX for the consequences of Purity loss. (An average, heavily augmented human can die and transfer into a clone about nine times before their 10th clone has a Maximum Health of 0 and is effectively stillborn.)
    3. Most capital ships, space stations, and cities have facilities where clones can be created and stored. Backwater colonies may not, and uninhabited/uncharted planetary bodies certainly don’t.
    4. The scanning process to create a clone takes only 10 Minutes. The creation of the clone body takes between one day and one week, at the GM’s discretion.
    5. A Player Character can attempt the cloning process himself, but doing so is incredibly challenging. The PC must have access to an advanced scientific facility (and obviously the person being cloned), must spend 50,000 Credits (multiplied by the number of times the subject has been cloned, as described above), and must succeed a Hard Science (5) Test. Attempting to clone someone in this way takes one hour for the scanning process, and the usual time for the creation of the clone body. Failure on the Science Test means that you have created an invalid abomination it would be merciful to terminate: the credits are still spent. No character can manually create a clone of herself.
  • In addition to the scientific and technical limitations on how clones can be created, there are also numerous scientific, technical, and legal limitations in place on why clones can be created.
    1. Carter’s Laws of Biogenics prohibit duplicative cloning, i.e. it is entirely illegal for two instances of the same person to be active at one time. The entire government-military-medical-intelligence-communications infrastructure of the Republic is engineered to make duplicative cloning impossible. The primary limitation is in the InfoLink Implant which allows for recording of memories and continuity of consciousness (see p. XX). The implant’s hardware has been designed in such a way that none of the galaxy’s major known powers—the Republic, House Yamamoto, House Dresden, or House Dallas—can produce duplicative clones. Attempting duplicative cloning is the single most serious crime in the Republic’s legal clone, and carries more substantially more serious legal consequences than 1st degree murder.
    2. Carter’s Laws of Biogenics also prohibit reproductive cloning, i.e. it is illegal to use cloning technology to produce an offspring that is genetically identical to yourself. The legal consequences for attempting reproductive cloning are less serious than those associated with duplicative cloning, as long as the clone created is a fetus or an infant. Otherwise, this crime is treated the same as duplicative cloning.
    3. Finally, Carter’s Laws of Biogenics prohibit “longevity” cloning. For a human example, it is illegal to create a clone of yourself at the age of 30, with the intent of transferring your consciousness into that clone when you die of natural causes at the age of 76. Other treatments exist to extend the human life-span, but they cost even more than cloning, making them prohibitively expensive for all but the extremely wealthy.
      1. While modern nanomedicine can easily cure most cancers known to man, it is still worth noting that a clone made of a body with a systemic disease will still have that disease upon becoming active. In other words, a woman with Crohn’s Disease who purchases a clone now has a clone in storage that also has Crohn’s Disease.
    4. The only cloning actually permitted by Carter’s laws of biogenics is cloning as “life insurance”. In other words, it is only legal to create and store a clone as a form of insurance against death by violence or accident.
  • Cloning works exactly the same for Replicants as for characters of biological Origin with two minor exceptions.
    1. Replicant “Clones” are instead called “Backups”.
    2. Replicants needn’t worry about Purity loss from iterative cloning, as Replicants begin with 0 Purity and can never lose Purity.
  • To review, Carter’s Laws of Biogenics limit the function of clones in Systems Malfunction to that of “Extra Lives” for people who die by violence, accident, or suicide. (If a nasty fall breaks both of your legs or leaves you paralyzed from the waist down and you aren’t near an Autodoc or anyone who can help you to one, if you have a clone, it is legal to blow your brains out and wake up in your clone body 24 hours later.)


For a mixture of reasons that are around 70% in-universe and 30% game-balance. The early Presidents in the Carter “dynasty” had specific ideological reasons for creating the Laws of Biogenics and making their enforcement so air-tight and the penalties for violating them so severe. The rationale behind the policy making was as follows.

Duplicative cloning was criminalized to prevent anyone—including future Republic administrations—from creating clone armies. To do so, it was reasoned, would create an underclass of people so replaceable they would have effectively no rights, and to protect the stability of the Republic from an “attack of the clones” type scenario. (From a game balance perspective, a character with multiple duplicates of themselves would be both overpowered and slow down gameplay.)

Reproductive cloning was criminalized under the rationale that the human race had benefitted from the genetic diversity granted by “traditional” reproduction for its entire history. A non-stagnant gene pool was desired to populate the galaxy. Also, natural biological reproduction was simply cheaper and therefore more effective than reproductive cloning.

Finally, “longevity” cloning was criminalized to prevent the further growth of the gulf between the Galaxy’s haves and the have-nots by adding a major line item like immortality to the gifts the wealthy enjoy that the poor do not.

In general, Armand Carter’s children and their children and grand-children were very reticent to allow human scientists to “play God”. After all, it was their famous ancestor that had saved the human race from enslavement to the will of a machine god during the War Against the Gaia (see A Brief History Of The Future, p. XX).


Transmissions From The End #00…7?

Transmissions From The End #007

SysMal Kickstarter In Its Last Week

Giant thank you, if you happen to be reading this, to everyone who helped us get this far, from the backers to the writers and artists (whose passion and dedication for their work has genuinely impressed me) to the superfans that have been with us since the old, old, old days at SUNY Purchase (for me, those were the GOOD old days, but even within our innermost inner circle opinions vary widely on that). Having been in the opposite position last year, being funded with a week left to go feels much better than the opposite. I feel like anyone reading this a) has already backed or b) is fervently never going to, but nonetheless, there will be a link a couple of paragraphs down just in case.

I have desperately wanted Systems Malfunction to be a “thing” since graduating college eight years ago (was it eight whole years? was it only eight? time is a baffling thing). And by a “thing”, I mean a thing that least SOME people, at least within the geek set, have heard of. And as I’ve blogged before, it’s all extremely relative but I digress…

I think in 2010 I decided to dedicate my entire life to ensuring its thingness. Now, six years and change of toil and failure later, its thingness is far from ensured: the argument could be made, even, that it’s never going to happen and that I should up. But this moment right now is the closest that Systems Malfunction has ever come to manifesting into the awareness of the public. It’s not there yet, but the Kickstarter isn’t over yet, either, and even when it is, that’s not where things end. I want to build communities around these games: organized play, fan forums, the works. And we want to start really building some of that infrastructure going into the next year.

Anyway, in this Update, I talk about “pipe dream” ideas we had for way past the Full Color stretch goal, in the hopes of getting backers to vote on them, in case we finish with a little extra money. You may want to check that out if you have not already.

SPLINTER QSR and Infowar

SPLINTER is a game we make that is a crazy mindf*ck that’s like an RPG inside an RPG, man! I’ve actively derided it as “too weird to sell” yet soon we’ll be not just selling it, we’ll have a free Quick Start Rules up for it, so you can sample the weirdness for yourself, including pregenerated Players/Avatars and an introductory adventure by Mik Barree. Major shout out to Rich K for making the QSR possible with his diligence and attention to detail.

Even as Systems Malfunction is destined to be a standalone game, we will continue to support the Singularity System as our preferred flavor of “use it for anything you like” Space Kablooie simulator. Its newest update–and its first update in over two years–is MOD-04 Infowar, which includes not just awesome rules for hacking using the Singularity system, but tips for incorporating PC hacking into your science fiction campaigns from GURPS to Shadowrun to Eclipse Phase.

Both of these books were meant to be on DriveThru November 9th, 2016 but um…welp. They’re now slated for a November 14th release on DriveThru, give or take a week or so. 

Time for me, Dr. D, to start running and say goodbye for a little while.

Alright, Children
The lights are out and the party’s over
It’s time for me: Doctor D
To start running and say goodbye for a little while
And I know you’re gonna miss me
So I’ll leave you with this
You know that big ball of radiation we call the sun?
Well it’ll burst you into flames
If you stay in one place too long
That is if the static don’t get you first
So remember even if you’re dusted
You may be gone
But out here in the desert
Your shadow lives on without you
This is Dr. Death Defying
Signing off

<End Transmission>