Indie RPGs

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!





For the third year running, Origins was awesome and exhausting. For the third year running our sales showed slow and steady growth, too. This year, just as steady but way less slow. In fact, if you squint, for the first time ever we actually MADE SOME MONEY by going to the con. Shocking, I know. But I think we might be approaching one of them ‘tipping point things. Keep in mind you’re hearing guarded optimism from a dedicated lifelong pessimist here.

21 out of 25 copies of the limited edition Psionics Core Rulebook sold with two more hand delivered to backers. I can confess this is the fastest we’ve ever sold anything. T-Shirts, stickers, and dice were a hit too–especially the design we’ve taken to calling Comrade Octo-Stalin and anything remotely related to Pyrokinesis. It is a pleasure to burn, apparently.

We had great fun running great Psionics demos Thursday and Saturday nights–Friday was a mysterious no-show. On Friday for the first time ever two PCs played by strangers initiated and completed the act of coitus in a men’s bathroom stall during a combat sequence, if I’m not mistaken, IN INITIATIVE ORDER. So yeah. That happened. Much experience was awarded.

On Saturday, the player manning the Firestarter intentionally overloaded, instantly reducing all other PCs to ashes. I was cringing and expecting recriminations for this disaster, when two of the players whose characters had just been immolated bought the book immediately! The most pleasant surprise ever, for sure. And goes to show that there ARE some gamers out there still who share my philosophy about character death.

The sole Splinter demo was a huge success too, sad I wasn’t there to see it but Mik did a bangup job and the number of groups actually playing Splinter might have just increased by a relatively huge margin. Singularity demos were fun too, especially Thursday’s.

On Friday night Mikaela and I got to hop on a game of RIFTS being run by the folks at Amorphous Blob (a gaming club, or so I gather). I played a CS Strike ‘Borg, she played a Dog Boy, the scenario was based on Expedition To The Barrier Peaks (my favorite!) and SOME ALIENS GOT THEIR DAYS THOROUGHLY RUINED. Huzzah.

In the background, I overheard a WWII Champions/Hero System game with Marvel superheroes as the PCs and the Red Skull as the villain, and at one point I heard the GM say “well he has 10 points of Mental Defense, because he’s a Nazi” and that was pretty great, but then I heard the GM say:

Take an extra 6d6 for your Presence Attack, since you just killed Hitler.

And my life was well and truly complete. What an awesome week. Big thanks to John and Allison for helping out with the Booth, the Demos, and everything else.

I bought some stuff. Notably, I got a starship deckplan from Scrying Eye games (starship deckplans, usually from Traveller, are something I almost never get to use but am nonetheless addicted to collecting), the miniatures game Aetherium (if you know anything about the stuff I make, you understand why I had to buy this) and the short story collection Soft Apocalypses by Lucy A. Snider, because as an author who sells my stuff directly, I love to buy stuff directly from authors. I’ve read a few stories in it and I can’t recommend it strongly enough if you’re a fan of really, viciously disturbing horror. I mean, “I Fuck Your Sunshine” is the title of one ‘track’ on this ‘album’. ‘Nuff said, I think?

Now to re-enter my post-convention recuperative coma. Psionics fulfillment will be underway shortly, with the rollout of the PDF most likely leading off.

Hard Out There For A Pimp

So much-belated Origins 2014 after action con report GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I think this may be shorter than usual, but I do have a tendency to say something like that and then write something like INFINITY pages, so we’ll see. I always have trouble hitting the mark between “short enough to read as perfunctory” and “really freaking long”

This year we were at Origins, running demos, and selling games. By we I mean the End Transmission Games crew, myself, Mikaela, and Rachid Yahya tagged along to help us out (thanks again, Rachid!). We were able to hold our heads up proudly because the Systems Malfunction setting book for the Singularity System is finally done after about a year and a half of sweat and toil and cat herding! Go buy it! Now!! Buy two of it!

Our pal Jason Walters of IPR/HERO Games/Blackwyrm Publishing invited us to join our booth to the three that IPR/Blackwyrm had to form an island, and we were happy to do so. It was a nifty arrangement and I’d love to do something similar in the future at Origins shows yet to come.

Following a meeting with Jason Pitre at the con, we have applied to join the amazing Indie Game Developer Network, home to many cool dudes and ladies what makes the indie RPGs. I sincerely hope we are accepted among their ranks, because it seems to be our last shot at having a sales presence at GenCon this year, without which we’re DOOOOOOOMED…not to have a sales presence at GenCon this year. Which would be terribly unfortunate, as our books are already headed there, and so are we.

Now on to the topic of… SALES, SALES, SELLING AND SALES

Sales were…not great, but not terrible. At least that’s my gut feeling without access to sales data for any companies of our size in our position…and without knowing for sure of any companies that are exactly our size and in exactly our position. Sales is a tough topic. As I said to many people and had said to me by many people over the course of the con, selling an RPG is a lot like selling a car. To someone who already has several cars. That they don’t ever use.

Basically, what I am learning is that our company sells the majority of our products during conventions. A lot of this is hand sales, us actually selling things AT conventions. This can be ascribed to A) Mikaela being i) a pretty girl and ii) actively outgoing, and please note that the latter of those two things is literally no less possible for me than the former, and B) game designers excitedly talking about their products to potential customers. But not all of the sales that happen DURING conventions happen AT the convention. We also see huge spikes in our online sales during cons. Which is weird but not really…I guess some of the dozens of people that take a business card and say they’ll “check us out online” do just that, and like what they see.

Besides conventions, we do most of our sales through DriveThru RPG, a huge online megastore of all things vaguely roleplaying related. While we are fortunate enough as of this writing to have an awesomely high publisher rating on DriveThru RPG and numerous very favorable and flattering reviews, DriveThru does not do anything to actively promote are products like they do for larger and better known companies. I think the number of sales we have through DriveThru have more to do with the degree to which DriveThru has cornered the online RPG Market.

Our sales on “indie” venues like the indie RPGs un-store and Indie Press Revolution are much more disappointing, especially since these are “indie” venues and as a publisher, we are as “indie” as you can possibly get. In fact, to quote MC Frontalot, with only a pinch of irony,

Unpromoted,  don’t know how you found me.
Soundly situated in obscurityland,
famous in inverse proportion to how cool I am,
and should I ever garner triple-digit fans
you can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than. 

IPR who is our distributor (kind of), for instance, does not (perhaps “can’t” is the word to use?) carry our products at national conventions because they don’t sell well enough to justify taking up shelf space that could be used for the “mainstream” “indie” RPGs (to what degree is that an oxymoron?) people are literally flocking to buy (cough). From a purely capitalistic perspective, this makes perfect sense because it makes financial sense. It’s just the fact that places like IPR present themselves as advocates for independent creator-publishers just as much as they present themselves as business ventures that makes it a hard pill to swallow. When you’re so Indie (read: unpromoted, unadvertised, unknown) that self-identified Indie venues can’t carry your shit because it’s too obscure, it starts to feel like a real Joseph Heller, by which I mean a Catch 22. Of course, it’s not like the big guys are looking out for our interests either…or even know we exist. Oh well, not whining, just philosophizing. 

But we’re pursuing avenues to try and raise awareness of our brand and all that other…corporate shit…that I despise…because I’m a flaky tortured artist creative type and all I know is to mak gams, not to mak money *le sigh*. Anyway if you’re reading this and you weren’t yesterday, then maybe something’s working.

And then there’s the big old fashioned national Distributors that are still in many ways the gatekeeper to FLGS (Friendly Local Game Stores) sales and that whole huge market segment (not everyone buys on the internet or at cons), but that’s such a big topic it will have to be saved for another post.

So that about raps up the recap of Origins and the thoughts stemming from it. We learned our lessons from last year, we brought a lot less books, and we sold a great big mess of them, in person and (I’m presuming, if things go like they usually do during cons) online. We put a ton of business cards in a ton of hands and had a ton of interesting conversations and made a ton of contacts, just like last year. As far as our public awareness, we are still somewhere between “way under the radar” and “totally unknown” but hopefully rising on the graph. Anyone into us know is into End Transmission Games before it was mainstream. Or “indie”. Or whatever it is sells thousands of games. 

There is a new S P L I N T E R product on the horizon! Finally! It should see release in the next few weeks, maybe I’ll blog about it first! We are also planning our very first KICKSTARTER. I will definitely be a-blogging about that soon.

Till next time!