RPGs

Transmissions From The End #17 – Alien Predators

Back with the logical continuation of my Aliens content for the Singularity System. My thoughts on the Predator films, the crossover films, the extended universe, and then all the content you need to include the Yautja and their toys in your Singularity System game.

The Predator Franchise

As a general note, I don’t have the same passion for the Predator films, mythos, or universe that I do for everything Aliens. The exceptions are the original Predator film, which is a superlative piece of cinema, and all situations where Predators are, as I might have said when I was ten years old, “versing” Aliens.

  • Predator (1987): My God this movie stands up well over time. It’s genre slight-of-hand at its finest, and midway through the film a great dumb action movie suddenly becomes a damn fine smart horror movie, in a way that must have left audiences bamboozled on the order of 1996’s “holy shit now there’s vampires!” From Dusk Till Dawn. Dutch and his entire “squad of ultimate badasses” (yes that’s an Aliens quote, shut up, it also applies here) are charismatic and memorable: former wrestler and future Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s Blain certainly has a memorable moment at the center of what has to be the most continuous barrage of gunfire being discharged into foliage in cinematic history, but my favorite character was and continues to be Bill Duke’s Mac, who I refused to believe was really for sure dead until the most explicit cut of the movie made it the most explicit it could possibly be. Arnold Schwarzenegger is at his absolute prime here, contractually mandated cheesy one-liners and all. The film is full of memorable moments, killer quotes, and macho banter, and there’s a lot to watch, from the general unhinging of the special forces’ team’s sanity (“gonna have me some fun, gonna have me some fun, gonna have me some fun”) to Billy’s incredibly brave, incredibly honorable, incredibly ill-advised decision to engage the jungle hunter in single combat, to the unforgettable finale when it’s down to just Arnold and the Predator…this is unquestionably one of the best action/sci-fi/horror films of all time.
  • Predator II (1990): Okay, I know “in the near future, the year 1997” dates this movie horribly, right alongside The Terminator, but that said, this is a solid sequel and an overall underrated film, and whatever time frame you imagine it in, Los Angeles being a violence-ridden hell hole is not that much of a stretch. Danny Glover delivers a capable performance as Lt. Mike Harrigan, and while it’s not his fault he’s not a larger than life 80s/90s action icon like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s almost certainly better at acting in the technical sense of the word. Solid performances from an interesting supporting cast, including my man Bill Paxton (plus an actress who until today I thought was Aliens’ Vasquez, Jenette Goldstein, but turns out to actually be an actress named Maria Conchita Alonzo) round out a movie that expand the Predator lore and mythos and most importantly teases us with this shot, leading to a fan-base drooling for an Aliens vs. Predator picture that finally comes to the big screen 14 years later.
  • BaP5b
  • Predators (2010): I only saw this film once, when it came out in 2010, and it neither offended me nor made a lasting impression of delight. I am not sure if the world in general has largely forgotten it exists, or just me.

Crossover Films

  • Alien vs. Predator (2004): Whoever wins, we lose indeed. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson whose career peeked around one of his first films, the Alien meets Hellraiser pastiche Event Horizon and has largely been a downhill slide ever since, this was a movie that I loved in theaters and have just found stupider and stupider with every subsequent viewing. Understand that when this movie came out I was 18, young, dumb, and full of, y’know, acid blood or whatever. I was so excited coming out of the theater about how “freaking awesome” this movie was that I managed to shatter a ceiling lamp with a music stand in my spastic enthusiasm (don’t ask, I couldn’t do it again if I tried). My major issues with the movie after my first theatrical viewing were that, based on my headcanon, deeply entrenched in the extended universe (see below), no way in hell should one Alien be able to take down that many Predators. On each subsequent viewing of the film, my concerns with it have turned more and more to how overall dumb and disappointing it was. It good have been worse, I guess, but it’s hard to imagine it being MUCH worse. Of course, AvP didn’t come out as a movie until it had been released/published/played/sequelized in virtually every other commercial medium known to man, so I was measuring it against the exceptional totality of the extended universe which preceded it, so again, see below.
  • Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2008): I both own this movie on DVD (or blu-ray, or whatever) and have frequently caught it on television. In spite of that, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to force myself to watch even a full consecutive half-hour of it. It just looks so dumb and so bad, like someone took the most generic teen horror movie setup ever and dumped xenomorphs and Yautja without any thought. I’m going to try to force myself to watch it soon…if I can. Does it have any redeeming value? You let me know.

The Extended Universe

Long before the turn of the millenium, and in fact–I’m just learning now–even before theatrical audiences could have seen that xenomorph skull on that Predator space ship, Dark Horse Comics got the rights to AliensPredator, and yes to Aliens vs. Predator. I don’t have time to get into all of the AvP videogames and what nots, so I’m just going to mention the Dark Horse Comics which I never got a chance to read and actually talk about the novelizations of them which I did. And actually, considering this is stuff I read like 20 years ago when I was like 11, rather than trust 11 year old me’s judgement, I’m only really going to talk about one of them.

  • Aliens vs. Predator: Prey was the 1994 novelization by Steve Perry and Stephani Perry (published by Bantam Spectra) of the first Aliens vs. Predator comic series published by Dark Horse, and if there was an AvP movie to be made, it should have been made using this book as a basis (and there were for one brief golden moment in the 1990s plans for exactly that), not whatever fatuous bullshit Paul W. S. Anderson’s screenwriters sprang on him in the early 2000s. Clearly set in the world of Aliens, it introduces protagonist Machiko Noguchi as the supervisor of the ranching colony of Ryushi as it is beset (unsurprisingly considering the general premise) with aliens and rogue Predators at the same time. What I thought this novel did best was its handling of the interiority of the yautja, namely I thought it very deftly walked a very fine line, making them both just relatable enough that you could see that there were stand up guys and bastards among yaujta just as there were among humans, and just alien enough as to still be really frightening. The novel ends with nearly everyone dead but Machiko who is Blooded by the Predator she had been forced to team up with, Dachande or Broken Tusk, who sacrifices himself saving her. As she is Blooded, she is now effectively a Yautja, which means from this point forward, the Predator race recognizes her as one of them. She now runs as a hunter among Hunters. Pretty cool, right? Virtually all of my headcanon in terms of Predator lore comes from this novel, and if my brain has embraced it, it must be right!

Races

Maybe you thought it would only be race because well…Predator. Ha! Did you forget about Ash from Alien and Bishop from Aliens?

Please note that in term of game balance, these races are roughly balanced with each other, and each approximately twice as powerful as a human starting character.

Synthetics

bishop-main

“Actually, I prefer the term ‘artificial person’…”

Advent Adjustment: Max Advent of 2, and -5 to starting AP Pool (23 instead of 28 in an average game).

Attribute Adjustments: +4 Strength, +4 Fortitude, +4 Quickness, +2 Intelligence, +2 Cyber. Their starting caps are 10 for Strength, Fortitude, and Quickness and 8 for Intelligence and Cyber.

Artificial Person: Synthetics have Armor 3. This is cumulative with worn armor, making Weyland-Yutani “combat sythetics” a real force to be reckoned with. Synthetics cannot be poisoned and have the Durability and Toughness traits automatically, along with the First Strike and Ambidextrous traits. They cannot take the Charisma, Juicer, or Will to Live Perks. They cannot take the Addiction, Addictive Personality, Allergic Reaction, Missing Limb, Missing Sensory Organ, Obesity, Space Sickness, weak Immune System, Weap Pain Threshold, or Venerable Weaknesses. Synthetics built to obey the classical prime directives (see Aasimov, Isaac) must take the Mercy Weakness.

Built Tough: Synthetics are immune to all drugs and toxins and to all standard means of first aid. A Synthetic reduced to 0 Health is broken. A Hard Engineering (2) and Hard Electronics (2) test can restore them to 1 Health, but if only one success is achieved on either test, the machine is hardly functional. It is so badly damaged that it will “never be top of the line again”, but it can still provide a brief audience and share anything it chooses to with the characters that repaired it. The first (Fortitude) points of damage that a Synthetic takes can be repaired with an Armorer (15 Minutes) Test: each success restores 1 Health. Additional damage beyond Fortitude can be repaired in a similar way, but using the Electronics skill instead.

Eidetic Memory and More: Synthetics of course have eidetic memory. They also benefit from all of the benefits that can be installed in Artificial Eyes, from the Biotech sourcebook. They are damaged by Pulse weapons, and as usual, Pulse damage ignores all of their Armor.

Morally Inflexible: A synthetic must follow its programming. A synthetic programmed to follow the classic Asimovian prime directives, cannot “by action or omission of action allow a living being to be harmed”. Robocop must 1) Defend the public trust, 2) Protect the innocent, 3) Uphold the law (4, classified: not harm or arrest any employee of OCP). The Terminator only has to Terminate Sarah Conner. (Understand these are just examples: neither Robocop nor a T-800 would necessarily use the same “race) described here.) Ash, on the other hand, was programmed to serve the interests of Weyland-Yutani’s exosciences division. In any case, a synthetic must follow its programming. If one welcomes the canonicity of Alien: Resurrection, the exception would be Aut-Auts, synthetics built by synthetics who have free will.

Yautja (Predators)

“When I was little, we found a man. He looked like – like, butchered. The old woman in the village crossed themselves… and whispered crazy things, strange things. “El Diablo cazador de hombres.” Only in the hottest years this happens. And this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skins… and sometimes much, much worse. “El cazador trofeo de los hombres” means the demon who makes trophies of men.”

Anytime.”

Honor Instead of Advent: Instead of an Advent stat, Yautja have an Honor stat that starts at 2 and works the same as Advent except for how it increases (AP cannot be spent on it). Honor represents the pride the Yautja and its status in its community. A Yautja first gains an Honor for successfully killing one of the “hard meat”, an alien drone. Such a Yautja is considered Blooded and is permitted to hunt the “soft meat” although might not wind up actually doing so until they have Honor 4. The increase from 3 to 4 Honor comes when a Yautja survives an ordeal such as escaping alone from a xenorph hive or single ritualized combat with another Yautja. The increase from 4 to 5 Honor occurs when a Yautja hunts and kills a suitably badass warrior of the “soft meat” (human beings). This hunt cannot be begun with the blessing of the community until a Yautja has Honor of at least 4. No less than taking the skull of an Alien Queen increases a Yautja‘s Honor from 5 to 6, making a Yautja an elder or tribal chief. Only the GM can determine what feat of honor could increase a Yautja’s Honor from 6 to 7.

Note that Honor can be lost for dishonorable actions: the loss of and failure to recover Yautja technology (the Yautja guide their technology jealously), or the killing of helpless prey (not befitting of the galaxy’s greatest hunters) or pregnant female prey (depriving the hunting ground of a potentially suitable prey animal in years to come).

Attribute Adjustments: A Yautja has only 20 AP to spend on its attributes, but receives the following bonuses to them: +8 Strength, +5 Fortitude, +3 Quickness, and +1 Cyber. Their starting attribute caps are 14 for Strength, 11 for Fortitude, 10 for Quickness, and 7 for Cyber. While Yautja are more technologically advanced than humans, they are not necessarily more intelligent. They may simply be benefitting from a head start.

El Diablo Cazador Los Hombres: Instead of getting to pick two free perks, Yautja instead start with all of the following specific free perks: Catlike, First Strike, Outdoorsman, and Toughness. They can take up to two weaknesses to gain up to two additional perks.

Hunter’s Training: All Yautja begin with the Dismemberment and Trick Shooter Combat Maneuvers from Firefight. Additionally, when attacking a xenomorph with a melee weapon, a Yautja can use the Pick Target action specifically to avoid the xenomorph’s acid blood backsplash.

Thick Hide: A Yautja‘s hide is much tougher than human skin. They have a natural Armor rating of 1, cumulative with worn armor.

Deadly Reflexes: A Predator with Honor 4 or higher automatically has ReAct -30. A Predator with Honor 6 or higher automatically has that upgraded to ReAct -20.

Predator (Yautja) Technology

I’d like to give a shout-out to the helpful fan-site Xenopedia with helping me remember the details of some of these and reconciling it with my own headcanon.

Instead of being purchased with credits, these items are acquired based on a Yautja’s Honor level. Any human (or non-Yautja) attempting to use any Yautja weapon does so at a +1 Difficulty Stage penalty until they have successfully hit with that weapon ten times, at which point they are considered to have gained familiarity with it.

Bio-Mask: Requires Honor 2 or higher. The Bio-Mask allows the predator to see in the Infrared, Ultra-Violet, and EM-Field spectrums, along with numerous others. The EM-Field spectrum is specifically designed to spot Xenomorphs, while the Infrared Spectrum is specifically designed to spot humans (although being infrared, it can be tricked, such as by a human masking his thermal signature). Switching modes is a free action. The mask provides +2 to Perception tests (to spot creatures when in the correct mode; the rest of the time it amplifies sounds and allows for digital zoom, providing a bonus to Perception tests in general). The mask also provides access through a series of dreadlock-like tubes to the Predator’s supply of oxygen mix from its home-world. It is a fair assumption that this oxygen mix is not very different than that of Earth, because Predators remove their masks in the presence of worthy opponents on Earth and seem able to breathe well enough to function.

Wrist Blade: Requires Honor 2 or higher. Free action to extend or retract. Uses the low-tech weapons skill. Size 0, Damage 4, Piercing 6. Harder than a diamond and sharp enough to cut through bone, or the hardened carapace of a xenomorph drone.

Plate Armor: Requires Honor 2 or higher. This plate armor notably does not cover a Predator’s lower torso or thighs, which are instead wrapped in a black wire mesh. It does cover the predator’s upper torso, sometimes asymmetrically, and also includes gorgets, spaulders, tassets, and greaves, as well as foot armor. Armor Rating 3, with two points of special resistance to Piercing. The plate armor is very strong, but ultimately is inferior to some human combat armor in that it does not provide full body protection. As a final special quality, a Yautja‘s plate armor does not have its rating reduced by the backsplash of xenomorph blood.

Medicomp: Requires Honor 3 or higher. The Medicomp is a small case that contains various medical supplies should the Predator ever be injured. This healing kit contains enough tools to perform minor surgery and repair superficial wounds. Among the medical supplies are vials of liquid which, when mixed with heated minerals, creates a regenerative sludge that can be used to cauterize wounds. Also contained are a shrapnel extractor, wound staplers, one stimulant shot, and one antiseptic tube. If the Predator has the First Aid skill, the Medicomp provides a +4 bonus to First Aid tests. The stimulant shot automatically restores Health equal to the Predator’s Fortitude, but once it’s used, it’s gone. If the Predator does not have the First Aid skill, the Medicomp is semi-intelligent, using its own First Aid skill of 5.

Combistick: Requires Honor 3 or higher. This is a spear-like combination weapon made from an ultra-light, ultra-dense, ultra-sharp alloy completely unknown on Earth. It has a length of less than one meter when retracted, but can be telescoped outwards as a free action, and is more than two meters long at its full length. It has several modes of attack, and when used in melee or thrown as a spear,  it uses the Low Tech Weapons skill, has Size/Accuracy of +2, does 6 Damage, and has Piercing 4.  The other end of the Combistick can launch a net to restrain prey before the final kill. The net has an Accuracy of +2, an accurate range of 30 meters, and does 2 Damage, Piercing 4. More importantly, a target hit by it is entangled in it and most likely pinned to a wall behind them: the net has more than enough velocity to drag a man sized target backwards until they hit a wall. Even attempting to wrestle free of the net is potentially fatal, because the net is made of sharp metallic wire and responds to all outward pressure by tightening further. To escape the net, a victim may attempt an Opposed Strength test versus the net’s Strength, which is equal to their own Strength times one and a half, rounded up. If they fail to achieve a net success and break free, they suffer damage equal to the successes the net achieved; this damage is Piercing 4. The netgun loads only one net; collapsing and reloading the net

Cloak: Requires Honor 3 or higher. A Predator’s cloaking system is controlled by its wrist computer and activated as a Minor Action. When activated, all Perception tests to see the Predator are Hard, and all Stealth tests the Predator makes are easy. If the Predator becomes even partially submerged in water (more than a foot deep) the cloaking device shorts out until it is repaired with an Electronics (10 Minutes) Test. If the Predator is wounded (i.e. loses Fortitude points of Health) the cloaking device becomes effectively useless due to the vivid green of the Predator’s bright green blood.

Sat-Comp: Requires Honor 3 or higher. This device, also located in the wrist computer, serves as a local GPS and through millimeter wave scanning, allows a Predator to map out the area surrounding it in moderate detail, including the positions of prey. This requires a Comms/Sensors test. One success maps out a 0.5 Km radius, and each additional success increases the radius mapped by 0.5 Km.

Plasmacaster: Requires Honor 4 or greater. A shoulder mounted plasma-cannon with a fusion power pack laser guided by the signature triangle laser sight and linked to the bio-mask for greater accuracy. Some of the oldest predators, with Honor 5 and higher, disdain the use of ranged weapons such as this, preferring the challenge of going in for the kill with just melee weapons. The plasma caster uses the Energy Weapons skill. It has Accuracy +3, Damage 6, a maximum Rate of Fire of Single, and Piercing 3. One shot can easily kill either an elite human soldier or a xenomorph if a Predator uses the Aim action while Cloaked and the Pick Target action (from Firefight) before taking the shot. The plasmacaster has effectively infinite ammunition, so it can keep firing continuously unless it is damaged (it is not completely waterproof) or discarded by a Predator seeking a fairer final confrontation with worthy prey.

Self Destruct Device: Requires Honor 4 or greater. Built into the Predator’s wrist computer, this is a weapon of last resort designed not to kill the Predator’s enemies, but to destroy it, all of its equipment, and its ship so none of them can be recovered by “lesser” civilizations. The only thing more shameful than being forced to use a Self Destruct Device (which renders a Predator’s Honor irrelevant as that predator is vaporized) is failing to for some reason at a time when its use would be appropriate (causing the immediate loss of 1 point of Honor). A self destruct device takes 2d6 Full Turn actions to set. It then goes off anywhere from 60 seconds to 300 seconds after the Predator sets it (it’s the Predator’s choice). As implied by the name, a self destruct device cannot be survived: not only would this be extremely dishonorable, but it is built into the Predator’s wrist computer which is effectively impossible to remove from the Predator’s wrist short of hacking it off at the elbow. When it finally goes off, a self destruct device creates an enormous nuclear fireball that deals 500 Damage, Blast -2/1 Meter, eradicating the Predator, its equipment, its ship, and approximately half a mile in radius of whatever else happens to be around.

Smart Disc: Requires Honor 5 or greater. Combining the Yautja‘s futuristic technology with the deadliest qualities of boomerang and chakrum, the smart disc is a programmable, mono-filament sharp, throwing weapon that rotates at extraordinarily high RPMs like a circular saw. Thrown on its own, the Smart Disc uses the Low Tech Weapons skill to attack one target, has an Accuracy of +1, deals 10 Damage, has Piercing 10, and returns to the Predator at the end of the phase. Alternatively, the wrist computer can be used to program the disc with targets. A Predator can take a Minor Action to make a Computers (2) Test to program one target into the disc’s memory. The disc can have a total number of targets programmed equal to the Predator’s Cyber. When the disc is finally thrown (a Major Action like most attacks, using the low tech weapons skill), it calculates a path through the room to hit each target before returning to the Predator at the end of the turn. Its accuracy for each of these attacks is equal to the Predator’s Computers skill + 1, with the damage the same as if throwing an unprogrammed disc at a single target.

Finally, in a pinch, the Smart Disc can be used as a melee weapon (Low Tech Weapons), with Size -1, 10 Damage, and Piercing 10.

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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>

 

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.