ENWorld’s New Inclusivity Policy: RAI vs. RAW

This is kind of an open letter type deal.

Anyway, I love that ENWorld’s site has

“In gaming parlance, please don’t attempt to “rules lawyer” these rules, find loopholes, or otherwise exploit them: the rules below are intended to help you understand the tenor of our community, but they will be applied “as intended” (RAI, not RAW). If you need clarification, feel free to ask”

as a masthead above its rules. Nicely put, considering the site’s focus. Apparently three simple rules (keep it civil, keep it clean, keep it on topic) kept the site running smoothly for 20 years, which is impressive. Now they’ve added a fourth:

Keep it inclusive: EN World is an inclusive community, and we encourage and welcome all people here. To that end, we strive to make it a welcoming place where nobody feels alienated because of who they are. You MAY NOT use the terms “agenda”, “ideology”, “politics”, or “propaganda” in relation to the inclusion of people slightly different to you in gaming products or other media, or post any message which is discriminatory towards those who differ to you in terms of skin colour, gender, gender identification, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, or any other personal attribute. We do not subscribe to the argument that tolerance means that we need to tolerate intolerance or that inclusivity means that we need to include non-inclusiveness.

So,  here’s the thing because I’m going to proceed to rules lawyer the shit out of this. By “RAW”, you’re not allowed to refer to propaganda coming out of the Trump White House as “propaganda” (Republicans are “people slightly different to you”) or tell a climate change denier that they have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about (not believing in climate change is a “personal attribute” and that would be “discriminatory”).

I wonder what the RAI was for this one?

See folks, the thing about policies in the real world is that, as a rule at least, there is no one around to “DM”, interpret, or adjudicate them. So it’s a very bad business to make it against the rules to express the opinion, for instance, that The Dark Tower was a shitty movie for myriad reasons, merely one of which is that they prioritized a political agenda over making a quality film, especially when you word it in a way that implies that you can’t say any of the above about the Trump White House or climate deniers. Then you’ve put yourself in a place where you’re either selectively enforcing policy based on politics (cough, rpg.net, cough) or you’re taking a stand as being against freedom of speech, period.

Freedom of speech is a two way street, folks. And I can’t stand the argument that “we’re so tolerant and inclusive that you can get the hell out and stay out for daring to disagree with us in any way”: it always is the worst kind of nonsense, and it always has been.

Disclaimer: I do not actually post on ENWorld, although I intend to when I have more free time i.e. when I am less hopelessly addicted to Elite: Dangerous. In spite of this, ETG has had the good fortune to be nominated for two ENnie awards thus far. This little essay was sparked by a tweet I saw from @Morrus who I gather is one of the head honchoes (if not THE head honcho) at ENWorld.

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Transmissions From The End #16: Bug Hunt (Contains Free Stuff!)

My science fiction roleplaying game, the Singularity System, actually rose from the ashes (well, that’s a little dramatic but let’s go with it) of an intended-to-be-free* Aliens/Alien vs. Predator** fan-game I was making called Bug Hunt. I left the project alone for a while, lost interest, and when I returned to it (or returned to the idea of making a science fiction RPG set in the “future of space“, whatever) I realized that a lot of the specifics of the Aliens setting also described my default assumptions about what a sci-fi future should be like.  No surprise there. Aliens (1986) is (at least tied for) my literal favorite movie of all time***, and is one of the subtler influences on my beloved Systems Malfunction setting (mainly the lived-in, believable, functional aesthetic of the world, going back to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) , but also in a more in-your-face sense the FUCKING PRAXAR) which Singularity would grow up to support.

So, the Singularity System was built off of the skeleton of the never published Bug Hunt, and there’s even some copy-pasta in there from the Aliens: Colonial Marines technical manual where the Dropship, APC, and space suit are described! (There’s some obscure End Transmission Games Trivia for you.)  When I published Singularity, the intention was always to publish a bunch of settings for it, from Aliens vs. Predator to Halo to Mass Effect, either for free as fan-made material or commercially licensed material depending on how successful the setting and the very-new company publishing it were.

* In hindsight, because of the background I come from–RPG Maker, specifically, where releasing your product for free is the exception, not the rule–when I started out, I released a lot of TTRPGs for free–like Phantasm(2010)–with the thinking that I could never possibly get the license, because licenses must cost a gajillion dollars and licensors must protect them like their balls. And here you’ve caught me releasing more free fan-made content now! I don’t think it was until this year at GenCon 50 that I really understood just how many successful board games and TTRPGs are licensed properties from other media–NEARLY ALL OF THEM!

So either every other company out there is Monopoly Man rich and always has been (a lot of these companies have held the licenses in question for a LONG TIME) or licenses to make games based off of media properties is not as ASTRONOMICALLY EXPENSIVE as I assumed back in 2010-2012, and since. Of course, companies are cagey. When I, as a random Joe Nobody, approaches the company making the Dark Souls board game and ask if they can tell me what the ballpark figure was for that license, of course they can’t give me an answer. But these guys aren’t wearing diamond-encrusted top-hats and gold monocles, so that’s a limited form of answer in and of itself.  I wish I had reasoned this out a lot earlier, say back in 2011? I have a feeling that the brilliant, eccentric, presumably approachable Don Coscarelli would have been a much softer target than 20th Century Fox!

** Initially, this post was going to include stats for Predators (the Yautja, as my extended universe reading has told me, but I’ll save the extended universe rant for another day) and my thoughts on the Predator franchise and the crossover, but I burned a lot of time and word-count talking about the Alien movies, so that will all have to be in a later iteration of “Transmissions From The End”.

*** My feelings on the films in the Alien franchise, to be (as) brief (as I can manage). Considering the overall pH spectrum of nerd rage on the internet, these are surprisingly positive overall.

  • Alien (1979) – The first truly successful attempt to make a horror movie set in space by brilliant auteur Ridley Scott featuring the genuinely disturbing designs of Swiss Painter H.R. Geiger. I know that older readers might be able to point me to earlier–truly old, even–sci-fi horror films, and I’ll give them a watch and see if they cut the mustard for me. But I will credit Alien as pants-shittingly scary to first time viewers even now, nearly four decades after its release, which is an incredible accomplishment considering how desensitized we’ve become to just about everything in the intervening time. This is my second favorite movie in the franchise, and only because the extremely supporting characters of the sequel
  • Aliens (1986) – Add a drop of action to the seat-of-your-pants terror and suspense of the original and you get my favorite movie of all time. (Actually, it is a three way tie with Ghostbusters (1984) and Reservoir Dogs (1992).) Ripley is the strongest heroine in the history of so-called genre fiction and this might be the most feminist genre movie ever made. The entire heart of the film is about the tetrad of Ripley, the daughter that grew up, lived her entire life and died of cancer while Ripley was in cryostasis for sixty years after the events of the first film (you don’t get that bit without the director’s cut), the daughter-surrogate of Newt, and of course the unforgettable Alien Queen. I’ve never particularly given a toot about Feminism, but this movie duct-tapes a flamethrower to an M4A1 pulse rifle and blows the fucking Bechdel Test to pieces with it. All of this movie’s main characters are female and all of its central drama follows them. This is why I am frankly bamboozled to see people’s collective “finally, a female cinematic role model” bullshit over this year’s (reasonably decent) Wonder Woman movie when Ellen Ripley is a stronger female character in every way and carried an entire franchise going back to 1979. But I must confess it was the supporting cast of Aliens that really cements it as my favorite film in the franchise. Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton (RIP brother, you will always be the “state of the badass art” in my heart), Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Al Matthews, William Hope, Mark Rolston and Jenette Goldstein deliver unforgettable performances as Corporal Hicks, Private Hudson, the heroic “artificial person” Bishop, Newt, the unforgettable Sgt. Apone, the ever-so-bitch-slappable Lieutenant Gorman, Private Drake and Private Vasquez (another seriously bad bitch), respectively. And Paul Reiser is perfectly cast as ruthless corporate douchebag Carter Burke, cementing for me I think the movie’s most chilling message: that the human monsters are even worse than the xenomorphs.
  • Alien 3 (1992) – I am positive that I saw Aliens at least a dozen times before I was six years old, which I attribute to (I’m not being ironic here) fucking great parenting on the part of my dad. I remember eagerly awaiting this film as a child for what seemed like forever and I remember hating it for years after it came out. I hated it for childish reasons–the callous off-screen killing off of the surviving supporting characters from Aliens–and as I grew up, I eventually forgave the movie and came to appreciate its excellence in its own right. It is my third favorite film in the franchise.  It also has a fantastic supporting cast (look out for a great performance from Charles Dance (pre-Tywin Lannister) as a disgraced doctor who is the closest thing Ripley gets to a love interest before he gets perforated by the alien, and seeing Lance Henriksen re-cast as the Weyland-Yutani admin) and is  tautly directed by David Fincher (Seven). Ripley’s final sacrifice at the end of the movie was bitter to me to swallow as a kid, but as an adult I greatly preferred it as the end of her character arc to the ill-advised abortion of a sequel that followed.
  • Alien: Resurrection (1997) – The weakest movie in the franchise, but not wholly without merit, directed by a very young Joss Whedon, who imported some interesting supporting characters from what I’m presuming is an unrelated project he was working on that later become Firefly (I’m guessing here). The most entertaining supporting performances in the film comes not from featured deuteragonist Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) or her weird and kind of forced-feeling homoerotic relationship with clone Ripley, but from Dan Hedaya’s doomed general and Brad Douriff’s increasingly mad scientist, Gediman.  Ultimately, the cloning of Ripley makes her sacrifice at the end of the third film pointless, and makes the way that movie disposed of the supporting characters from the second that much more galling. The movie’s backstory/director’s cut dismissal of Weyland-Yutani (the ominous, ruthless, and mysterious corporation responsible for the events of the first three films who any viewer must desperately desire to see get their on-screen comeuppance) as having been “bought out by Wal-Mart” centuries ago while good black comedy is badly anti-climactic cinema, almost anti-climactic as the movie’s goofy looking antagonist, the alien-human hybrid. In short, Resurrection is the worst film in the franchise because it throws away everything about Alien 3 that I came to realize made it a good movie as an adult in the interest of…what, exactly? 
  • Prometheus (2012) – I don’t know if this even makes sense, but Prometheus is definitely not an Alien movie, yet is inseparable from the continuity of the Aliens Franchise. I’ll keep my commentary on it brief because it’s recent and contentious. I thought it was a good, possibly great science fiction movie. If you were expecting it to be a great horror movie, like Alien, to which it is a prequel, I could see why you might conclude it was a bad movie overall, but I strongly disagree. It doesn’t quite make the connection to Alien I wanted, but it sets up symbiosis with the most recent (and hopefully final) movie in the Alien franchise which does. I think Prometheus was a very smart movie that probably went over the heads of general audiences in a lot of ways, but I think it did have a couple of dumb moments which unfortunately went memetic in the age of the internet.
  • Alien: Covenant (2017) – It’s probably controversial to say this,  but: I think this was a good science fiction film, a great horror film, and a very good Alien movie: I’d rank it above Resurrection and Prometheus (if you count that as an Alien film at all) certainly and almost as certainly as an equal to Alien 3. The performance(s?) from Michael Fassbender were incredibly strong, even riveting. Covenant wasn’t as well received critically as I think it deserved to be. Probably most controversial was its ending (no major spoilers here if you haven’t seen it yet), which word of mouth described to me as “predictable”. The ending disappointed me a little, but on the basis that I found it a touch cruel and pessimistic, for a movie that had not been kind to its cast throughout. I understand that Ridley Scott–80 years old at the time of this film’s release!–has probably grown more cynical with age, not less, as is typically the case. But to me, a happier ending, a drop of sweetness and mercy, would have better seasoned and served the horror that came before. I need to re-watch it and see how my opinion changes over time, of course. As the first new Alien film in 20 years, it’s pretty monumental.

And Now, With No Further Adieu, All Of The Ingredients For Aliens In The Singularity System

The Xenomorph’s Lifecycle

Facehugger

The “facehugger” is the second stage of the alien life-cycle, following the egg from which it is hatched (eggs are stationary and relatively helpless, with 12 Health and Armor 1; destroying an egg in one hit destroys the facehugger inside it, while failure to do so means the facehugger begins to hatch, and finishes hatching by the end of the next turn after the egg was damaged). Facehuggers are more of a vector or a gamete, depending on your perspective, than a full-fledged organism. They are incredibly fast, surprisingly strong, have the xenomorph’s concentrated acid blood, and are utterly single-minded. The purpose of its short life–it withers and dies within 6d6 + 6 hours if it cannot find a host–is to wrap itself around an organic host’s face, ram its ovipositor down their throat, and lay an egg in their chest.

Fortitude Strength 8  Quickness 8
Intelligence PerceptionCyber 1
Initiative 14d6 Health 7

SKILLS: Athletics 6, Low Tech Weapons 6, Stealth 6

Impregnate: The facehugger launches itself at an adjacent target’s well…face. It doesn’t need to make an attack roll, nor does the victim get an evasion roll. It is just too fast. The victim must make a Hard Quickness Test just to react at all. If the victim fails that roll, they are unable to react and are impregnated. See the Chestburster’s Bloodbath of Birth ability, below.  If the victim succeeds, they can struggle to pry the creature off. They make an Opposed Strength roll versus the facehugger. If they achieve a net success, they throw the creature off. If the creature achieves a net success, it impregnates them. If there is a tie, they struggle with the creature for the rest of the turn. A character adjacent to the victim can also try to pry the facehugger off with their own opposed Strength roll.

If the victim is wearing a protective face-plate (like the kind that often comes with a spacesuit) it buys them exactly one turn as the facehugger excretes a weak acid that boils through the face plate.

If a facehugger is pried off, it is thrown to the ground. To attempt to leap onto a character’s face again, it must hit with an Unarmed Combat roll vs. Normal Evasion: if it does, Opposed Strength tests happen as described above.

Once a facehugger has attached itself firmly to its host, there is no safe way to remove it. Cutting it will kill the host with a facefull of acid blood. Any attempts to pry it lose with force will just cause it to tighten its grip around the host’s throat, potentially crushing the host’s trachea or asphyxiating the host.

Acid Blood: Whenever a facehugger takes damage from anything other than fire, characters it is grappling with, “hugging”, or on top of suffer the same amount of damage the facehugger takes, reduced by their Armor as normal. The rating of their Armor is also reduced by 1 point.

Chestburster

A chestburster is a relatively helpless alien embryo. It is cannily aware of its helplessness and will immediately, instinctively seek to flee via a small aperture where it cannot be pursued after its birth. It has a bite attack, but only makes use of it in the direst of emergencies. Its survival prerogative is flight, not fight.

Fortitude Strength 4  Quickness 6
Intelligence PerceptionCyber 2
Initiative 11d6 Health 7

SKILLS: Athletics 6, Stealth 6, Survival 4, Unarmed Combat 6

Bloodbath of Birth: Twelve to twenty four hours after a facehugger attaches itself to a host, it falls off, seemingly dead, its payload delivered, and its host seems to recover to normal health (chest X-Rays will reveal otherwise). A suitably appropriate dramatic interval–no more than a few days–after a facehugger has impregnated a host (or 6d6 + 6 Hours after detachment) if the GM is feeling arbitrary) at a suitably appropriate dramatic moment when everyone is least expecting it, the chestburster punches its way free from the host’s torso in a shower of gore. The host is killed instantly. Every human who witnesses this hideous birth must succeed a Hard Intelligence Test or be unable to act for two turns. Humans that were particularly close to the host or cared for them should not be allowed an Intelligence Test at all: they automatically spend two turns gaping in horror.

Fast Movement +4: A Chestburster can move 15 meters as a Minor Action instead of the 11 meters that would normally be calculated from its Quickness.

Bite: At 6 Dice for 2 Damage, Piercing 1.

Acid Blood: Whenever a chestburster takes damage from anything other than fire, characters it is right on top of or that are right on top of it suffer the same amount of damage, reduced by their Armor as normal. The rating of their Armor is also reduced by 1 point.

Xenomorph (Adult)

In just 6d6 + 6 hours after its birth, a xenomorph has grown to its full adult size, molting and shedding its skin several times during the process. This is exceptionally rapid growth, and it is unknown if it requires the xenomorph to consume biological material (rats, cats, dogs) or simply happens inevitably over time. An adult xenomorph is a terrifying, nigh-perfect killing machine, and could easily wipe out a group of PCs on its own by hunting and stalking them intelligently, using its affinity for stealth and its deadly natural weapons. Note that the following stats represent a xenomorph born from a human host. A xenomorph born from a dog, a cow, or a manatee might have slightly different statistics and abilities.

Fortitude Strength 7  Quickness 7
Intelligence 2* PerceptionCyber 3
Initiative 13d6 Health 12 Armor 4
Optional: ReAct -20 (adult xenomorphs should only have a ReAct value in a campaign where most PCs have a ReAct value in personal combat, which is not the default assumption of an Aliens campaign, since cyberware augmentation of humans is not featured or mentioned in the series.)

SKILLS: Athletics 6, Electronics 3 (“What do you mean they cut the power, man, they’re animals, man!”), Low Tech Weapons 6, Stealth 6, Survival 6.

TRAITSCatlike, Toughness.

“What If They Don’t Show Up On Infrared At All??”: An Alien that is flush with, stationary against, or crawling amongst pipework, industrial machinery, or its own resin (see below) is like a chameleon, almost impossible to spot because of the way it blends in with its surroundings. Perception tests to see it (even with Vauggles or the like) are Hard, and Stealth Tests made by it are Easy.

Hive Mind: Individual alien drones act primarily on Instinct, as indicated by their Intelligence of 2. If a queen is within 100 km, the drones can operate as a hive mind instead, using the queen’s Intelligence of 5 instead.

Natural Weapons: Note, the Evasion roll made against any of an Alien’s Natural Weapons is Normal, not Easy, due to their deadly speed.

Claw Rake: Attack at 7 Dice for 5 Damage, Piercing 1.

Impale With Tail: Attack at 10 Dice for 4 Damage, Piercing 4.

Grab and Bite: With one net success on a Low Tech Weapons vs. Normal Evasion test, an alien can grab a victim as a Major Action. Unless that victim can somehow thrash his way free (beating the alien on an opposed Strength test), on the following turn, the Alien can ram its proboscis and pharyngeal jaws through the victim’s brain, an instant and automatic kill in a campaign setting based in the Aliens universe (if importing the Xenomorph to a different universe or crossing over into the territory of equally badass monsters like the Predator, assume the attack inflicts 12 Damage with Piercing 6 and requires no roll beyond the initial grapple).

Acid Blood: Whenever a xenomorph takes damage from anything other than fire, characters within two meters of it suffer the same amount of damage, reduced by their Armor as normal. The rating of their Armor is also reduced by 1 point. If more than one character is within two meters of the xenomorph when it is damaged, the acid damage is divided evenly between them.

Metamorphosis: A solitary alien drone (male) that is not already part of a colony or hive can attempt a metamorphic process that transforms it into an alien queen. Doing so requires an ample supply of biological material–several corpses or live victims–and ample time to encase the victims and itself in a resin cocoon, from which the drone can emerge as a queen. This process a Survival (60, 1 Hour) Extended Test.

Alien Warriors

Larger and stronger than the other male drones, alien warriors are specialized to protect the queen. There are usually between four and six of them guarding the queen and the royal egg chamber at any given time.

Fortitude Strength 8  Quickness 6
Intelligence 2* PerceptionCyber 3
Initiative 11d6 Health 16 Armor 5
Optional: ReAct -20 (Alien warriors should only have a ReAct value in a campaign where most PCs have a ReAct value in personal combat, which is not the default assumption of an Aliens campaign, since cyberware augmentation of humans is not featured or mentioned in the series.)

SKILLS: Athletics 5, Electronics 3 (“What do you mean they cut the power, man, they’re animals, man!”), Low Tech Weapons 8, Stealth 5, Survival 5.

TRAITSDurability, Toughness.

“What If They Don’t Show Up On Infrared At All??”: An Alien Warrior that is flush with, stationary against, or crawling amongst pipework, industrial machinery, or its own resin (see below) is like a chameleon, almost impossible to spot because of the way it blends in with its surroundings. Perception tests to see it (even with Vauggles or the like) are Hard, and Stealth Tests made by it are Easy.

Hive Mind: Individual alien warriors act primarily on Instinct, as indicated by their Intelligence of 2. If a queen is within 100 km, the drones can operate as a hive mind instead, using the queen’s Intelligence of 5 instead.

Natural Weapons: Note, the Evasion roll made against any of an Alien’s Natural Weapons is Normal, not Easy, due to their deadly speed.

Claw Rake: Attack at 8 Dice for 6 Damage, Piercing 2.

Impale With Tail: Attack at 11 Dice for 5 Damage, Piercing 5.

Grab and Bite: With one net success on a Low Tech Weapons vs. Normal Evasion test, an alien can grab a victim as a Major Action. Unless that victim can somehow thrash his way free (beating the alien on an opposed Strength test), on the following turn, the Alien can ram its proboscis and pharyngeal jaws through the victim’s brain, an instant and automatic kill in a campaign setting based in the Aliens universe (if importing the Xenomorph to a different universe or crossing over into the territory of equally badass monsters like the Predator, assume the attack inflicts 12 Damage with Piercing 6 and requires no roll).

Acid Blood: Whenever a xenomorph takes damage from anything other than fire, characters within two meters of it suffer the same amount of damage, reduced by their Armor as normal. The rating of their Armor is also reduced by 1 point. If more than one character is within two meters of the xenomorph when it is damaged, the acid damage is divided evenly between them.

Alien Queen

The sole female and arguably the start of the alien life cycle, it is the queen that lays the eggs that give birth to the facehuggers that then forcibly impregnate their victims, creating chestbursters which grow into alien drones. The queen does not ordinarily fight, her job in the alien’s life cycle is to produce eggs and to guide her hive through their telepathic communication. But if her eggs are threatened or the enormous egg sack she uses to lay eggs destroyed, then she becomes a deadly enemy, nearly the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but much smarter, and way more pissed off. If the queen is destroyed and the colony is reduced down to a single male drone, that drone can metamorphose into a queen under the right conditions, see Metamorphosis above.

Fortitude 12  Strength 9  Quickness 5
Intelligence PerceptionCyber 4
Initiative 13d6 Health 20 Armor 6
ReAct -30

SKILLS: Athletics 3, Coercion 6,  Low Tech Weapons 9,  Survival 6.

TRAITS: Durability, Toughness

Egg Sack: While attached to her egg sack, the queen cannot make Evasion rolls. The Egg Sack has a separate Health of 20 and no Armor. The queen lays eggs with an Extended Fortitude (6, 15 Minutes) Extended Test, creating on average one new egg every 45 minutes, although the overall size of the colony is limited by the number of human hosts available. If a threat begins attacking the queen directly rather than the egg sack, she begins to detach herself from it, a process which takes two full turns.

Natural Weapons: Note, the Evasion roll made against any of an Alien’s Natural Weapons is Normal, not Easy, due to their deadly speed.

Claw Rake: Attack at 10 Dice for 6 Damage, Piercing 2.

Impale With Tail: Attack at 12 Dice for 7 Damage, Piercing 6.

Bite: At 9 Dice for 9 Damage, Piercing 6.

Acid Blood: Whenever an alien queen takes damage from anything other than fire, characters within two meters of it suffer the same amount of damage, reduced by their Armor as normal. The rating of their Armor is also reduced by 1 point. If more than one character is within two meters of the queen when it is damaged, the acid damage is divided evenly between them. Attacks that only deal 1 damage to the queen due to her Armor do not cause any acid backsplash.

Hive Mind: The Queen is smart, and can see through the…eyeless heads of all of her drones and warriors, and adapt her strategy and tactics accordingly via this telepathic link.

“We Got Nukes, We Got Knives, We Got Sharp Sticks”

The Smartgun and Flamethrower first described on page 50 of The Singularity System core rulebook accurately depict the M56A2 Smartgun and M240 Incinerator Unit from Aliens respectively.

Armat M4A1 Pulse Rifle (Firearms Skill)
Accuracy: +0
Damage: 5
Ammo: 99
Maximum Rate of Fire: Full Auto
Notes: Piercing 2, 4-Round Burst
Minimum Strength: 4
Cost (Game Balance Benchmark Only; Marines Are Issued Their Rifles): 8,000 Credits

With Underslung U1 Grenade Launcher (Heavy Weapons Skill)
Accuracy: +0
Damage: 10
Ammo: 4
Maximum Rate of Fire: Single
Notes: Blast -1/2 Meters

The Armored Personnel Carrier first appearing on page 65 of the Singularity System and the Dropship first appearing on page 66 of The Singularity System accurately represent the M577 Armored Personnel Carrier and the UD4L Cheyenne Dropship from Aliens respectively.

M-5000 Powered Work Loader (Power Loader)

Handling: +0
Mobility: 1
Tactical Speed: 20
Hull: 25/12/12/15
Armor: 10
Weapon Systems: Pincer (Accuracy +0, Damage 12, Ammo NA, Range Close)
Welding Torch (Accuracy +0, Damage 18, Piercing 8, Ammo 10, Range Close)
Systems:  None.
ReAct: -30

[last lines]

Ripley: Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew – Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash, and Captain Dallas – are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

[to Jonesy the cat]

Ripley: Come on, cat.

<End Transmission>

 

Perfectionalism

So the SysMal PDF has been done and out to backers since the end of August as promised, but it’s not as perfect as we want it to be yet. There is art in there that is not of the minimum quality we wanted because artists missed their deadlines, and the presence of most of the exceptionally great finished art makes its unfinished status all that much more jarring. There are typos lurking in the manuscript and one major goof up in terms of structure on my part that might reduce the page count noticeably after we scrub some redundant verbiage.

After Mikaela is rested up from the exhausting double-header of GenCon and DragonCon (I’m not sure if it’s always this way, but those cons were really like back-to-back this year and attending both as exhibitors/vendors/geeks who drink really really wiped us out) she’ll be polishing it to a smooth shiny finish and it should be on its way to printers some time in September.

GenCon 50: Real Talk

There’s a lot of pressure to be positive even when you’re feeling anything but because people smell weakness and instinctively hate it. But there aren’t a ton of people who read this anyway so why waste energy lying to an audience that’s almost/mostly not there?

GenCon 50 was kind of a bummer.

We lost a LOT of money by being there, not because we didn’t sell a lot of games (and “Comrade Octo-Stalin” T-Shirts), but because the overhead was crazy, our booth was in the ass end of nowhere, and we didn’t have a marketing strategy in place going in. Everything was very seat-of-the-pants. I enjoyed some of the demos I got to run, but I didn’t sell games right off of the demos, which always makes me feel like I failed.

Probably most importantly, in spite of having more help at the booth than we’ve ever had before–courtesy of Mike Myler and friends plus our promising-is-an-understatement new Director of Marketing Tytiana Browne–I felt like I spent as much of the con as ever running around like a headless chicken, freaking out over Systems Malfunction not being done, trying frantically to coordinate and manage people’s efforts even when I wasn’t shackled to the booth. Probably worst of all, I managed to miss out on catching up and socializing with nearly all of the friends and colleagues that I only get to see at GenCon, losing a never-ending game of booth tag with cool cats from Rich DeBarba to Ron Edwards. I missed out on stuff that I wanted to see to commemorate the fact that I, Devon Oratz, however small a part, was personally there at the 50th annual Geneva Convention, inaugurated by E. Gary Gygax in 1968. I missed out on the They Might Be Giants concert. I missed out on the GenCon museum and Lucas Oil stadium. And I missed all of these things because of my frantic fretting over the fortunes of a game company that shows distressing signs of failing.

I don’t have time to feel sad about this stuff. I don’t have time to feel anything. DragonCon is the first weekend in September and even though it’s a last-minute arrangement this time around, we’re going to be there with bells on, as exhibitors. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Transmissions From The End #15: The Sounds That Remain In Question

Enjoy this blast from the futurepast…

The Sounds That Remain In Question

January 4th, 501 R.T. 0700 Hours {Local Time}
Deck 12 Situation Room of the Vitrix Carrier RAS Lancelot
0.01 Parsecs Spinward of PH-087 “Hong Kong Station”

>>>>ONI Net Log Active
>>>>Ordo Seclorum Est 8.0 Encryption Active
>>>>Remote Satellite Comms Vetted. Vocap active.
>>>>Voice Prints Verified: President Dave Carter (DC), Commander Jesse Kilgannon (JK), Major Gloria Kilgannon (GK), Captain Michael Kilgannon (MK), Governor Akira Yuzaki [Hong Kong Station] (AY), General Andrew Kirin (AK), Rear Admiral Jane Deftinwolf {by remote} (JD), Director Connor Fagan (CF).
>>>>Level 9 Firewall Engaged; Suborbital Uplink Secured

//BEGIN MEETING TRANSCRIPT

DC: Thank you all for coming so early in the morning and on such short notice.

CF: Mr. President, before you say anything else, are you sure that this meeting site is secure. I understand that these “Redeemers” are quite advanced.

DC: Jane?

JD: All possible precautions have been taken. However if I.W.D. (R.I.A. Information Warfare Division) would like to sweep the room for bugs or triple-check my encryption, I won’t be insulted. I can’t make any guarantees, Director. But I don’t think you can ever.

CF: Perhaps this meeting should be delayed until such a time as we can have guarantees of operational security?

AK: All due respect, but this has been delayed too long as it is. We need to come up with a gameplan here.

DC: I agree, General. Ace, tell us the story so far.

JK: October 4th, 499 R.T. Avalon Standard time. Communications Tower Delta-462 on Hong Kong Station goes dark.

JD: Most locals notice only a small period of downtime on their Commlinks before another relay carrier picks up their signals.

JK: Remote access to comms systems on D-462 is locked out. Manual access is cut off. Infiltration teams who enter through the ventilation system do not leave alive. Drone reconnaissance gets jammed or otherwise taken offline.

JD: Simultaneously, an entity calling itself MONAD—and occasionally referring to itself as The Demiurge or The Demogorgon—makes contact with numerous gray databases throughout the Galaxy, including Cydonia, which is—

CF: Obviously, we’re familiar with it.

JD: The messages that it transmits are badly fragmented and barely coherent.

AK: Wait a second. Stupid question. Is this thing a hoax or not? Because according to the memos that I’ve gotten—

MK: It ain’t no hoax, General. You pulled our asses out of the fire on Salem. The hostiles there were these Redeemers. Working for the MONAD intelligence.

GK: You’re jumping ahead a little, don’t you think?

AK: I see.

JD: Welcome to the circle of trust, General. As I was saying, the MONAD entity claimed omnipotence and omniscience, but did not seem capable of coherent communication. Or perhaps, it simply enjoyed being cryptic. In any case, a link between it and the GAIA was established almost immediately.

DC: A link we can’t confirm or deny.

CF: And to prevent a panic, we issued a press blackout.

JD: At the very least, we can confirm that by all indications MONAD is a self-aware neural network, the most advanced AI since the GAIA, even if it has no link to that entity.

AK: If it’s not the GAIA, who made it? Why?

JK: We don’t know. Either.

AY: Excuse me, at this point could I ask the purpose of this meeting?

DC: The purpose of this meeting is to create a plan of action for dealing with the MONAD entity and the potential threat that it poses to Hong Kong Station and the Galaxy.

AY: Inasmuch as the threat is contained within Hong Kong Station, this is an internal matter for House Yamamoto to decide. Yet, I am the only House Yamamoto representative here. This is an obvious violation of my interests and our economic security. I must ask for a private—

DC: This is bigger than House Yamamoto. Bigger than any of the Great Houses. This has the potential of impacting the lives of every Republic Citizen. We have done you the courtesy of not inviting House Dallas or House Dresden to the discussion table—yet. In turn, we ask that you participate in this discussion. Deru kui wa utareru.

AY: I see.

JD: Ace, continue.

JK: On October 16th 499 R.T. the MONAD entity goes silent. It stops communicating with the galaxy. Attempts to physically access Delta-462 remain unsuccessful.

AY: We do not have access to remote climate control for that tower or to the explosive bolts that would be used to safely jettison it.

AK: Well, that answers my next question.

JK: No further developments until May of 500 R.T..

CF: Actually, that’s not entirely true.

JD: Go ahead, director.

CF: We continued to monitor transmissions to and from Delta-462 during this time. MONAD made a handful of “outgoing calls” to various places around the Galaxy Net. Communicated with some of its Redeemers. It invited several other individuals to make a “pilgrimage” to Hong Kong station to commune with it. We have no way of knowing if any of them made it. We intercepted and decrypted all of them. Mostly philosophical discussions. And some logistics. The organization of M0TES—social mixers of random individuals for experimental purposes. A lot of that chatter was disinformation but…

JD: Did you detect any hint of what it was planning for May?

CF:

JD: Then clearly, we do not have access to its high security communications.

CF: Nonetheless, we are certain that MONAD had no ties to the Christmas 499 massacre. That was a Collective Automata action. Verifiably.

JK: May 1st, 500 R.T.. Dallas and Yamamoto are engaged in open warfare on Salem. They and Republic observers are engaged and destroyed by unknown forces. These “Redeemers” are augmented Celestials, robots, and drones answering to MONAD. They force fighting to a standstill on the planet. Republic reinforcements arrive to assess the situation. Including me and my team.

GK: The Collective Automata were also on-hand to secure a neural network—crucial to their operations—that had been captured by House Yamamoto. We’re not sure if that was a Redeemer objective or not.

MK: Our target was this truly gassed up Kapsilus Arms Troll Drone that was apparently acting as some kind of a remote signal hub for the Demiurge. It was being run directly by the Demiurge, and was acting as a signal bridge to other Redeemer units in the area. Code name: Wrath of God.

JK: Not an exaggeration. The three of us working together with close air support were barely able to take it down.

JD: It was at this point that it became clear to us that one Steven Wherner, C.E.O. of Tiberius Arms, a House Dallas subsidiary, had been a sleeper agent of the Demiurge for some time. He was killed in action on Salem, of course, and later on Arcadia—after defecting to House Yamamoto.

CF: Is it your policy to harbor terrorists, Ms. Yuzaki?

AY: I am sure I cannot say.

JD: Are you aware of any additional clones that Dr. Wherner may have made?

AY: Again, I am sure I cannot say. I will make inquiries.

DC: Thank you.

CF: After the Redeemer force on Salem was beaten, we used the presence of the Collective Automata to mask the fact they were ever there. We maintained press containment as best we could.

AK: Is it me, or have the Redeemers done basically nothing since then?

JD: It is true they have been primarily on the defensive—

JK: Or biding their time.

AY: Until the September riots.

JK: This is where my firsthand narrative is limited. Jane, you’ll take it from here.

JD: Of course. I was just getting to that. On September 26th, 500 R.T. shortly after Nippon Sector quarantined itself from the riots, Hong Kong station entire went dark. Perhaps, Governor you could shed some light on the events there.

AY: I am afraid I cannot. I was trapped at my home in Osaka for the duration of the riots.

JD: Well, here is what we do know. Someone—and we have no suspects except MONAD—released some kind of weaponized nanites on Hong Kong station at the height of the House Wars fighting. Possibly multiple strains of weaponized nanites. A large subset of the population was killed outright. Still others retained their mobility and functionality but experienced severe hallucinations. Chemical and biological weapons—unlike anything we’ve seen before—were used also. Others were merely “switched off” but unharmed.

AK: Alright, now I’m getting ahead of myself, but doesn’t it occur to you that that was the ideal time to nuke the station from orbit? We’d have had plausible deniability, and no more MONAD to worry about.

AY: How can you even suggest that! You are talking about killing over a million of my citizens! Of your citizens!

DC: The Governor is right, General. Taking the shot on Hong Kong station is an absolute last resort.

JD: Things on the station seem to be “back to normal” now, so to speak. The survivors are moving on with their lives. But we don’t know what the Demiurge did during the comms blackout. And besides the hundred thousand or so casualties, there are hundreds of people who simply cannot be accounted for. And I think that about brings us up to speed.

AY: Well what are you proposing.

AK: Admiral Deftinwolf, do you speak for the regular Armada here as well as ONI?

JD: I do.

AK: Well, excuse me if my first question is overly obvious, but why not just hit Delta-462 with a mass driver or something. No more Delta-462, no more Demiurge, correct?

Hell, we could nuke it from here.

AY: Are you serious!?

JK: Good question, General. Two reasons.

AY: Is one of them that there is no way to destroy Delta-462 without depressurizing the entirety of Hong Kong Station? Even if the Republic citizens there could be evacuated, you would be looking at a monetary loss to House Yamamamto in the vicinity of 2.1 Trillion credits. Would the Republic be willing to foot the bill for that?

AK: Listen here, little lady—

JD: That is in fact one of the reasons. Here is another. Any preliminary action we take runs the risk of preempting the Demiurge.

AK: You’re going to have to break that one down for me.

GK: In your “Shoot Delta-462 with a mass driver” scenario, you’d want to evacuate the civilians first, correct General?

AK: Of course. I’m not a butcher.

JK: Well if you do that, you risk tipping our hat to the Demiurge. Which could then kill those civilians or trap them there as hostages—human shields. …It’s what I’d do.

CF: He’s right. We have to assume that the Redeemers have operational control of Hong Kong station security now.

AY: What? You’re saying that thing controls my station security?

JD: It’s true. The Redeemers had weeks “alone” with Hong Kong station during the riots. There’s no way to tell what countermeasures they’ve set up.

AK: So it’s a Mexican standoff, then.

JD: It gets worse. Director, please tell them about Operation Armistice.

CF: The greatest danger, as far as our involvement is concerned, is the idea of the Demiurge making one or more copies of itself and storing them as off-site backups or worse, running them concurrently on other servers.

JD: Although psychological profiles—inasmuch as the term applies—indicates the Demiurge won’t do the latter.

AK: Why not?

JD: In layman’s terms?

DC: It likes being special. … Seriously. God-Complex and all.

CF: As I was saying. The Demiurge being able to back itself up would take the nuclear option right off of the table.

AK: What is being done to stop this?

CF: Well, if the Demiurge could be called a mere program, it is an enormously large and complex one. Even by modern standards of data storage and bandwidth. Also, one that could only be run on a very limited subset of hardware.

JD: As a matter of fact our understanding is that it has had to upgrade the hardware on Delta-462 as it has continued to evolve.

AY: Really?

CF: We are constantly—as in as we speak—monitoring all outgoing communications from Hong Kong station via a direct ansible tap.

AY: Isn’t that illegal?

CF: Under normal circumstances? Sure. Anyway, if we detect any file transfer that seems even remotely long enough or large enough to be Demiurge uploading its source code elsewhere, we will jam or intercept it. Same thing for multiple short burst transmissions to the same source.

JD: What about a Torrent style transfer protocol? Breaking the file into millions of pieces and compiling it later.

CF: Something like that would require, approximately, the processing power of every Commlink in the Galaxy as a subscribed node, to transmit and compile the pieces. It’s not viable. We hope.

DC: What about couriers?

CF: Well, anyone wanting to transfer the entire—hypothetical–backup would need a data storage unit the size of a starship to move it. That we’re scanning for, at customs and more importantly at the warpgate.

DC: What about multiple couriers with pieces of the source code.

CF: They’d need hundreds to transfer the file with standard storage devices. That is the biggest threat right now. We’re checking every outgoing individual. And we’ve made sure that Gatrlore adepts can’t access the station. But short of a full Quarantine—

AK: If it’s not too late, I’m sure that Admiral Deftinwolf and I can have one up within 72 hours.

AY: A quarantine? That’s preposterous. Do you have any idea how much material and trade goes in and out of Hong Kong Station every day? You’d be killing us as sure as—

AK: Listen lady.

JD: Enough. Please. Anyway, Operation Armistice is a contingency. If Director Fagan detects the Demiurge transferring a backup—and we cannot stop it—I have a Vitrix carrier in place ready to nuke Delta-462.

AY: And kill a million Republic citizens?

DC: If it is our only shot at the Demiurge, we are going to take it.

CF: This seems like a good time to remind you, Governor, that this meeting is Classified. Code Black.

JK: That means…

AY: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Don’t try to intimidate me.

AK: So it sounds to me like Operation Armistice isn’t really a battle plan at all. It’s a last resort.

JD: Correct.

AK: What about sending a commando team to manually blow the explosive bolts and jettison Delta-462?

JK: We’ve run simulations on that. They haven’t come out favorably. Oh, my team can get inside and blow the bolts…but the Demiurge will have at least a seven minute window to react.

JD: That’s enough time for the Demiurge to sterilize everyone on the station, to mass-transmit its source code, to order suicide bombers to—

AK: Alright, I get it. What about using a nanoforge to create a new airlock? So that we can shoot Delta-462 off the station without killing everyone on board.

AY: That actually sounds like a good idea, General.

JD: The trick is doing it in a minute or less, so that the Demiurge has no time to react, and having the shot lined up. I have my technicians working on a nano-forge that could create a reliable seal fast enough.

AY: And?

JD: And they’re working on it.

DC: Alright people. I’m not hearing any perfect options. What else do we have?

CF: We’re working on engineering a virus, naturally, but as Jane has probably told you their Net security is…well, it puts ours to shame. Delivering is a problem. If we hand deliver it, we run into the same problems as with sending a team in to blow the bolts.

JD: Right now, the Demiurge seems dormant. It seems extremely wise NOT to poke it with a sharp stick until we’re absolutely sure we’re going to kill it with the first poke. We need a very, very sharp stick.

JK: Hopefully, that is where Operation Schoolhouse comes in.

JD: Hang on a second. I just detected a tap. Impossible—

AY: My God.

CF: Purge this channel. Now. We’ll go to analogue comms. Never should have been online in the first place.

END OF LOG//

Dexterity Convention…

Is not what DexCon stands for. But we WILL be there at Booth #((XYZ)) so come holler at us and buy some games and stuff!

Including our brand new product, the first full length Adventure module for #SPLINTER, Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs! Adventure by Richard Kelly, cover by the amazing @Strutzart.

Happy Independence Day! Protip: Try to ignore the President and focus on the GOOD things about America!

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: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/review-the-singularity-system/
Throat Punch Games’ Review of Psionics (This One’s Even On The Big Nurple):  https://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/17/17166.phtml
The Wandering Alchemist’s Review Of SPLINTER: http://thewanderingalchemist.com/2017/05/19/review-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>