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

Drugs

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.

>>>BEGIN SIDEBAR

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.

>>>END SIDEBAR

>>>BEGIN SIDEBAR

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.

>>>END SIDEBAR

Addiction and Getting Clean

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

– Metric, “Synthetica”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus endeth the excerpt…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing It All Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital Ships

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

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

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

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

Starship Turret Weapon Accuracy Damage Starship Turret

Point Defense Weapon

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

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

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

Closing & Boarding

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

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

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

SPLINTER Core Reprint plus Journey To The Forbidden City nears its conclusion…

The much improved second printing of the SPLINTER Core Rulebook is now available! It’s free (in PDF) to anyone who already owns the original printing, just re-download it from DriveThru. Thanks to hard work from Mikaela Barree, it sports a massively improved layout and a sexier cover. But there are substantive changes as well. Along with some tweaks to the Realm rules, the game has been overhauled to use the DicePunk System rules for Earthside, as discussed here previously, which is very exciting to me because it makes our pantheon of games that much more coherent and organized.

Check it out here!

In other SPLINTER news, Journey To The Forbidden Jungle (MA15+, V/S/L) approaches its conclusion…

Below the Brigand’s Lair, the party found themselves on Level 1,011,999,603 – the shores of the River of Nothingness. Attempting to cross the gray river left Hegik and Viperis floundering amnesiacs (Yntrew and Philarion flew over, while Caduceus walked along the river floor in powered armor), after a Hoary Trenchmaw reared out of the river and was dispatched by the party. Hegik and Viperis fished themselves out of the drink as Caduceus, Yntrew, and Philarion were engaged by a trio of Harvester Assassins. The party was victorious, but Yntrew lost his head to an assassin’s monofilament garrote: before Analina could resurrect Yntrew, Caduceus took his badge and later crushed it before his eyes. After a battle with Demon Voormis leading their more mundane kin, the party rested, the tensions between them mounting. Philarion used an auto-mapper drone to map the rest of the level.

After resting, the party entered a large triangular structure in the center of the cavern level.  In the Hall of Traps, they sprung just about every trap, with predictably harmful results. Beyond the hall of traps, Herk Vadis rejoined the party: a Headless Hydra and a Painwracked Juggernaut fell before the party in quick succession. Entering the central chamber of the structure, the party initiated a battle with a series of Salamandrean Survivors emerging from a painted mosaic. As pitched battle was waged, they soon discovered that five Salamandreans emerged from the mosaic every turn, from a seemingly infinite supply!

The party was routed as Salima and then Philarion fell before the glaives of the endless lizard men. During the rout, while trying to rescue Salima, Viperis used Salima’s body as a human-shield to absorb the glaives of eight mosaic-born Salamandreans. This cowardly act allowed her to survive, as the party fell back from the rout to rest and regroup.

After a lengthy consideration of their options for proceeding, the party finally returned to confront the lizard men, finding them receptive to diplomacy. In fact, when the party acted in a friendly manner, the Salamandreans served them a large feast and even helped them discover the trap door leading down to the next level: Level 1,011,999,604: the Tomb of the Lizard King.

Moving down to the next level, the group was attacked by Bullet Men and managed to defeat them (a Scorpion_Tail symbiote detached itself from one of the felled Bullet Men and attached itself to Viperis). Next the party confronted Mordrin, the Asilos Punisher who had tried to assassinate the Duke of Reo on the Lizard King’s orders. A Hold cast by Yntrew paralyzed the Asilos, and the party destroyed the two Dark Walkers guarding him.

The Held Punisher was interrogated by the party, revealing that he’d acted as the agent of the Haon-Dor Fallen in awakening and guiding the Lizard King. When finally released from the hold, Mordrin narrowly avoided execution and fled using Smog Soul. The party followed him south through a secret door, and after trampling an Origin Wick and its family of Tallowkin, found themselves face to face at last with the Lizard King in his throne room.

The Lizard King–who was not alone, but rather attended by a Hypnogorgon, a Haon-Dor Fallen, and a powered armored figure with a rather large enchanted greatsword, as well as four GIU-44 Assault Droids–acted quickly, creating a Forcewall between himself and the party. The Lizard King spoke with the party for a short time: in the end, he offered Caduceus a bounty of 1,000 Eagles per head for his comrades, and Caduceus accepted. One of the droids brought an Entoptic Generator and activated it, initiating the ensuing battle.

In the ensuing battle, Caduceus and the droids now on his side killed Analina, felled Philarion repeatedly, and nearly felled Viperis. Yntrew, meanwhile, was held and then spared by the Lizard King and his entourage on their way off the level via a high-tech elevator. Caduceus too fell in the battle against his former friends, destroyed by Philarion with a dramatic use of a Rust Grenade. The GIU-44 Assault Droids marched past Caduceu’s corpse, trying to finish Viperis and Philarion, but were ultimately destroyed. Maurice Beauxxhome escaped from a coffin-like closet in the Lizard King’s throne room. At first, he attempted to resuscitate Caduceus, only learning that Caduceus was a traitor upon seeing Viperis personally perform Caduceus’ coup de grace.

The party–now reduced to Viperis, Philarion, Yntrew, and the not-currently present Hegik, Varatha, and Herk, with the deaths of Analina, Salima, and the betrayal and then death of Caduceus–now tries to decide their next move, alongside Maurice Beauxxhome in the Lizard King’s abandoned throne room.

Renzozuke, a Mnemonic adventurer sent by the Marquess Rella Biron to determine the fate of Maurice’s expedition, joined the party.

Searching first for Maurice’s equipment the group encountered a pair of Halflifes, destroying the radioactive undead. The team then defeated a Dire Dragoon and rescued three dozen captives that the Lizard King had used as human cattle and feeding stock. Here, the group split in two, with Maurice, Philarion, Herk, and Renzozuke leading the mistreated and malnourished captives upstairs to safety, while Yntrew, Hegik, and Viperis went downstairs to pursue the Lizard King.

Taking a high tech elevator 340 floors down to Level 1,011,999,945 — in the vicinity of the ancient but high-tech city of Archaeobatrachian — Yntrew’s group was set upon by a pack of Rust Cotillion Raches. The appearance of a mysterious sniper–the Vryx known as Ziq–was instrumental in the group’s triumph over the Cotillion forces. Meanwhile, Maurice’s group encountered the duke of Reo outside of the lizard king’s Fortress, turning over the Lizard King’s prisoners to their care.

The two teams reunited and regrouped down the elevator shaft, at a Penitent colony situated on the upper levels of the Temple of the Frog – Level 1,011,999,946. From there, the group pursued the Lizard King downwards. They found no sign of the Lizard King’s forces, but did confront an Automated Sentry Platform, a deadly pair of Raving Reprobates, and a series of devious traps. Ziq and Renzozuke were transported to the top of the elevator shaft by a Teleport Trap, but managed to rejoin the party eventually, in the Penitent colony.

After refreshing themselves in a nicely appointed bathroom, the group triggered another trap, teleporting Renzozuke temporarily into the vacuum of space. A battle with a Viscerid Hysteric followed. With the Hysteric vanquished the party slaughtered a Voormis Broodmother and brood, and then were attacked with swarm gas pods by a Rookery Paymaster. After slaying the Paymaster, the group entered the compute room he’d hold up in, and Hegik and Philarion gained access to one of the computer terminals. The group systematically searched the camera feeds of each functioning camera to reconnoiter their surroundings. The most interest seemed to be in the room across the hall, which contained a leaking Nuclear Reactor and a brown Ugly Thing guarding a large horde of treasure, most saliently, custom Powered Armor.  After much planning and preparation, the group finally lured the Ugly Thing out onto a series of mines buried by Hegik–destroying it–and seized the treasure.

The party next moved down into an incomplete utility space below (Level 1,011,999,948). There they destroyed a Softshell Moltless before being ambushed by a pair of Viscerid Liberators.

On Censorship and Principle

The internet has made the venerable epigraph “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall, if you were wondering, but traditionally and wrongly attributed to Voltaire) seem a rather tired and worn-out bit of rhetoric. But overused or not these are words I have always tried to live by, as best as I can.

I disapprove of “Tournament of Rapists” in the strongest possible terms. It is a benighted piece of grotesque wrongheaded filth that should have never existed. I seriously question the character of the people who created it and who sought to publish it. I cannot overstate the fact that I am not a fan.

But censorship is always wrong. When a monolithic distribution channel like One Book Shelf, a self-acknowledged de-facto monopoly, bans a product, that is tantamount to censorship, and they know it. And they very nearly did so, not because it was in line with their principles, but to satisfy the demands of a screeching hate-mob of perpetually outraged social justice harpies who for some reason did not think that not buying the product and/or leaving it one star or less reviews would be enough to let the market sort itself out. This is shameful.

At DriveThruRPG, we trust publishers to upload and activate their own new releases without anyone at DriveThru reviewing the product before it goes public. Because this system worked so well for the past 14 years, we had no need to create an “offensive content guideline.” To avoid anything approaching censorship, we simply adhered to an unwritten policy of not banning any RPG product.

There is, however, a growing problem. Sometimes, RPG creators design content that goes beyond disturbing. For example, we recently — and rightly — received criticism for selling an RPG supplement called “Tournament of Rapists” for four days on our marketplace.
In hindsight, we realize that we should have suspended that product from sale immediately, pending further internal review and discussion with the publisher. For a variety of reasons, we relied on our standing policy of not banning RPG titles, even in the face of a product so offensive that the policy was inadequate. We understand that we were wrong to do so.

A New Policy

It is time to change the approach we have used on DriveThru. Our prior stance, that “censorship is unacceptable,” was tantamount to shirking our responsibility. As market leaders, we are in a position that requires us to be leaders also in keeping the RPG hobby inclusive and safe.

I have actually been hoping to try and strengthen our working relationship with DriveThru RPG in the future. And in the interest of being fair, I will acknowledge that OBS did not actually ban this product. They did ban another product, nearly a year ago, that was far less offensive by any reasonable human metric, for even more tenuous reasons, but that is neither here nor there. In this case, they spoke to the author and publisher who agreed mutually to pull the product, so that is alright. What is not alright is that DriveThru has changed its policy AWAY from a policy of “Censorship is uancceptable”. This is not a good change.

I don’t know a lot about James Raggi. He’s the designer of an RPG called Lamentations of the Flame Princess that I also don’t know much about, but that looks pretty cool and which is, while WAY BIGGER than anything End Transmission publishes, not exactly SUPER-WELL-KNOWN. Anyway, my point is, he recently said this on Google+. And while I’m not a Google+’er, I couldn’t + this enough. I don’t know what political baggage agreeing with him might entail, but I agree with what he had to say:

I checked my stats and according to the ranking function they have in the Publisher tools, I am a Top 2% seller on OBS. (which says more about how small the 98% are more than how big I am) I have done over $100,000 gross sales over the six years I’ve sold through the site, which isn’t nothing.

If one of my products gets pulled, or if the products of my peers are pulled without their consent, I am taking every LotFP product off of that site, which will be something of an economic armageddon for me and a hardship from everyone on my roster getting royalties from sales. I’ll also have pretty much no mechanism for conveniently delivering PDFs to people. (even reinstating PDF sales on my site would leave me no mechanism to provide access to people that do not purchase the title; I have rather cheap software and investing in more sophisticated software will be quite impossible without OBS sales money coming in.)

This past weekend a brainless howling mob showed they were in charge of this industry and have the power to disappear ideas and products they disapprove of. Whether this is the majority or a very vocal minority doesn’t make much difference to me; I consider myself at war with them. That this is within our industry feels like an intense betrayal; I have been literally shaking mad over the past several days. Simply shitting out pieced-together cheap crap POD versions of what I owe people and simply quitting has crossed my mind.

Without the ability to freely create, and freely reach people who might be interested in those creations, participation in this hobby and this industry is simply not worth doing.

Anyone who would restrict that creativity, or make it more difficult to find people who are creating things you might enjoy, anyone who restricts imagination and works of fiction, anyone who works to ban any work, is simply evil.

Evil.

We have lost a great deal over the past several days.

While I appreciate his turn of phrase (“brainless howling mob”), I think he’s going a bit far in calling this impulse to destroy art that offends you, and the business based decision to give in to that impulse, “evil”. But it’s sure as hell not good. A lot of social justice berserkers argue that censoring this product somehow makes tabletop gaming a more inclusive, safer space for women and minorities. That is so much bullshit. Censorship rearing its ugly head in this industry makes the space of tabletop games feel that much less safe for my girlfriend, just as one example. Because fuck censorship.

We are, of course, not actually pulling our products from DriveThru, for the same reason that End Transmission games, if it were a person, would not light a stick of dynamite and then swallow it: it would be EXTREMELY. FUCKING. BAD. FOR US. I am in no position to commit principle-based financial seppuku when we are trying to support our family and we are trying to do so through our games. Above and beyond this, a repulsive shitshow like Tournament of Rapists is not the hill my company is going to die on, thank you very much.

But I do need to shake my head at DriveThru caving to this kind of pressure. Censorship is always wrong. Answer speech you find distasteful with your own speech. Not by silencing it.

I <3 GenCon

Usually I don’t manage these post-con recap posts until around Tuesday or so, after I’ve had Monday to make it home and recover, but this one seems to be burning a hole in my pocket so to speak, so I’m going to let it fire itself off now (Sunday, just sitting down after the con closing). Maybe I’ll go short now and make a more detailed recap later. Maybe.

I love GenCon. For four days a year, my social circle is suddenly four times as big as for the other 352. Everyone is excited and they’re all excited about the same stuff that excites me. People I run into know me and what I do and treat me like they care and it matters. And all around me are geeks and nerds of every imaginable stripe letting their freak flags fly, wearing their colors proudly. It is an incredible high and I am left totally physically and emotionally exhausted and with no idea how to feel now that it’s over.

We got to play a couple of fun games, although we spent most of the con running our own demos in the IGDN room. Not as much Battletech as I’d have liked to get in, and I missed out on a RIFTS game I’d had my eye on, but oh well. Ben Woerner ran his World of Dew for us (I played a ronin based on an amalgamation of the roles Toshiro Mifune is named for: not particularly imaginatively, the character was named Toshiro Mifune, and for name meaning, I facetiously wrote “Toshiro Mifune” in that spot too, then crossed it out and wrote “Japanese Clint Eastwood” which I thought was descriptive enough). I’ve actually owned World of Dew since GenCon of last year or even earlier, but I’ve never gotten to play it. The game he ran was quite nicely done (his ability to spontaneously generate samurai noir characters and places with appropriate names was impressive), but it did get me thinking about why I’m not a fan of storygames/meta-narrative currency in general, so that will probably be a blog post soon where I actually go in depth and discuss some game design philosophy/theory stuff. At midnight on Friday I finally got to play the National Security Decision Making game, specifically the fast-play doomsday clock scenario. I was randomly handed the Presidency of India, barely survived an internal coup from a slighted covert operations director who went rogue, and was minutes away from convincing my cabinet to sign off on nuking the crap out of Pakistan when they were saved by the bell, the bastards. I’ll admit I almost fell for the smooth-talking Chinese diplomat who nearly convinced me to let Chinese troops occupy the Kashmir region as a demilitarized zone. All in all it was chaotic, hectic, heated, zany, high-intensity, preposterously stressful yet almost unbelievably fun two hours. Would definitely play again.

Our six demos (24 whole hours of demos) went great overall. The IGDN rooms were a seriously happening place. By a very idiosyncratic and highly mercenary metric I personally like to use, we had an unprecedented success rate of 65% (the number of players who had fun was over 90%, but that’s not how I’m measuring success in this instance). Mikaela took the bullet on the morning demos of Splinter and Singularity for me. I ran very full games of Psionics on Thursday night and Singularity on Saturday afternoon, eight players to a table! Dan Davenport, the GMShoe, graced us with his presence for the Singularity demo, which was super fun.

The three Psionics demos we ran–Mikaela ran two of them–one on each day, were especially fun and memorable. Many players took off with really fun and interesting interpretations of the pregenerated cast, and there were some seriously unexpected twists and turns that unwound from the demo scenario, especially at Friday night’s game, which got intense. I was happy to see my pal Rusty in attendance at Saturday night’s game. All in all, I got to meet and thank a great big bunch of Psionics backers in person, along with many fans that have been supporting us for years now. You people are super and it was a blast gaming with you and hanging out. Overall, it was a really cool experience.

I’ve kind of lost interest in supplying my games to Games On Demand for them to run. This is the second or third year running that I’ve talked with their organizers about how to go about this and received exceptionally uncomfortable answers. I’m really tired of being stonewalled: there are plenty of other avenues for GMs to run my games at conventions.

We met famous (or at least semi-famous, or nerd famous, or internet famous, or whatever) people and they were nice to us. Yesterday Mik got to meet Trace Bealieu, who was really friendly and approachable, and snagged me an autograph from Margaret Weis. Periodically over the course of the con my mood was dampened by the occasional belligerent jerkass or creepy slimeball (more on the last later maybe), and even if those creepy jerks are far outnumbered by cool dudes and ladies, I’ve always been more sensitive to negative emotions and more inured to positive ones. Still, though, today was really the feather in the cap, though, a blur of awesomeness that left me feeling both dizzy and over the moon.

R.K. Milholland (!!) said kind things about the artwork in Psionics, I bought a print from Metamorphosis Alpha and Dungeon Crawl Classics artist Doug Kovacs, met and bought an autographed book from Adam Scott Glancy over at Pagan Publishing, one of the original creators of DELTA MOTHERFUCKING GREEN (holy crap you guys), talked shop and hung out briefly with Eloy LaSanta, Matt McFarland and various other folks from the IGDN, saw my books on the Studio 2 shelves among the likes of Pinnacle Entertainment (!), Mongoose Publishing (!!), and FASA (!!!!) which made me feel   like I was a ‘real’ game designer more than anything else has, and then hung out for a while with Matt Clements, Brandon Aten, and Kevin Siembieda, all of whom were amazingly friendly and approachable. I happily traded my very last copy of Psionics (!!) to KS (!!) for Palladium’s new(ish) Robotech Tactics RPG, and Kevin actually asked me to sign it as though I was anyone of any importance, or as though he hadn’t been an industry legend for a bajillion years, which is ridiculous, in the best possible way. I also bought a Rifts ballcap, a Chaos Earth mousepad, and Chi-Town Library pencils, and the probably-never-gonna-be-produced-but-anything-is-possible RIFTS Movie Script.

In closing, today I spent way, way too much money on dice, minis, Magic cards, RPGs and Battletech stuff, and I am very, very tired. Fuck yeah, GenCon.

Incoming Niftiness

Crossposty from the End Transmission blog which is to say, also me:

Three things coming up as we’re now about a week out from GenCon 2015. As usual, we will be there, running a bunch of demos and just generally getting our geek on. Please come find us and say hi! Our products including Psionics should be available at the Studio 2 booth in the dealer’s hall. For the third year running we haven’t managed to secure a booth of our own at GenCon, but not for lack of trying. Hopefully that will change going into next year. As for news from the homefront, here’s what’s up:

1) In the next few days we’ll be uploading the DicePunk SRD to the interwebs. If you did not know, DicePunk is the free, Creative Commons licensed core rules system that powers Phantasm(2010) and Psionics. (If you’re reading this, you probably already know this, but you don’t need DicePunk to use Phantasm(2010) or Psionics, or vice versa.)If you like things you can hold in your hands, the DicePunk SRD will also be on sale in a lovely book form from some of the usual suspects, and will be launching as a new product for GenCon 2015. Hardcopies will be available from the Studio 2 booth: those books are being printed now.

2) We’re about to be playtesting new large-scale starship combat rules for The Singularity System, a product we’re calling Epic Space Battles, that lets you run larger space combats with more ships faster. It’s basically a massively streamlined and more scalable version of the basic Singularity starship combat rules. This product will also be released for free (so many free things!) as a PDF here and on DriveThru. Not because we don’t think it’s awesome, but because this is something that the Singularity System promised from day 1 and if you already own the Singularity System you really should get this for free.

3) We want to meet and talk to people who want to run our games at cons and FLGS around the country. We want to give them (even more) free stuff and cool t-shirts and prestige. We want to make it official. We want, in short, an organized play program. So we’ll be reaching out in a big way. Look for news about this over the next month or so. This is something we’ve been talking about internally forever and it’s time to finally turn that talk into action.

Over and out, internets,
– DTO

ALL HAIL KING TORG!

“ALL HAIL KING TORG!”

POST-CON RECAP GOGOGO

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.