Singularity System

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!


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.



“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.”


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.


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


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.


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 #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.

Transmissions From The End #005 – Making Up For Lengthy Silence With Endless Rambling!

Sorry guys, I’ve been really fucking busy. The Kickstarter that is going to jump in about two weeks has been taking all my time getting ready for it. I am about excited enough to poop my pants. So I missed about two installments of Transmissions From The End, so I’ll try to make up for it by making this one triple length!

Guest Shit From Thom Caulfield:

I asked Devon if I could have a guest post and he was like “you can have a guest 1/8th of a post because I have a lot of shit to write get your own fucking blog man” and I was like “I will take what I can get!” so here goes.

I’m sad that I can’t post this to the big purple because fascism (hurray!) which we’ll probably have in real world American in about a month and five days (double hurray!) but here are the sample complications I came up with based on the movies that Fiasco abjectly failed to be the Roleplaying Game Version of.

////FARGO (1998)

* “What kind of trouble are you in, Jerry?”
* “This was supposed to be a no-rough-stuff type deal!”

* “Love ya, hon.”
* “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”

* “… So maybe the best thing would be to take care of that, right here in Brainerd.”
* “You know these are the limits of your life, man! The rule of your little fuckin’ gate here! Here’s your four dollars, you pathetic piece of shit!”
* “Is this a fuckin’ joke here?”

* “That’s a– that’s a fountain of conversation, man. That’s a geyser. I mean, whoa, daddy, stand back, man.“
* “I need … unguent.”

/////IN BRUGES (2008)

* “One of the girls they murdered WASN’T a friend of mine. I just wanted to make you feel bad. It worked quite well.”
* “The little boy.”
* “He pauses, even though he should just hit the cunt, and he repeats, yes, I am talking to you.”
* “That’s for John Lennon, you Yankee fucking cunt!”
* “I’d hit a woman who was trying to hit me with a bottle! That’s different. That’s self-defence, isn’t it! Or a woman who could do Karate. I’d never hit a woman generally.”
* “Would you ever think about killing yourself because you’re a midget?”

* “Harry. I am totally in your debt. The things that’s gone between us in the past, I love you unreservedly for that. For your integrity, for your honor, I love you.”
* “The boy had to be let go.”
* “My wife was black. And I loved her very much. And in 1976 she got murdered by a white man. So where the fuck am I supposed to stand in all this blood and carnage?”

-HARRY (Raiph Fiennes)-
* “How can fucking swans not be somebody’s fucking thing? How can that be?”
* “I liked Ray. He was a good bloke, but when it all comes down to it, y’know, he blew the head off a little fucking kid.”
* “You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”
* “An Uzi? I’m not from South Central los-Fucking-angeles. I want a normal gun for a normal person.”
* “I know I shouldn’t, but I will.”
* “You’ve got the capacity to get fucking worse!”
* “Well obviously I’m not gonna go through you, am I, with your baby and that. I’m a nice person. But could you just get out of the fucking way, please.”
* “Don’t be stupid. This is the shoot-out.”
* “I do want the guy dead. I want him fucking crucified. It doesn’t change the fact that he stitched you up like a blind little gayboy, does it?”
* “You’ve got to stick to your principals.”

\\\\\PHANTASM IV: OblIVion (1999)

* “Mike, that Tall Man of yours didn’t take Jody away. Jody died in a car wreck.”
* “Small Man, your end approaches but it is not yet. Take great care how you play.”

\\\\PULP FICTION (1994)

* “Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!”
* “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.”
* “Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.”
* “Well, I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker!”

* “Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.”
* “Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.”
* “I don’t mean any disrespect, I don’t like people barking orders at me.”
* “I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ race car, right, and you got me the red. ”

* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
* “I specifically reminded her – bedside table! On the Kangaroo! I said the words, “Don’t forget my father’s watch.””
* “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”

* “…Marcellus Wallace don’t like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace.”
* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.””
* “I’m prepared to scour the the Earth for that motherfucker. If [Butch] goes to Indochina, I want a nigger hiding in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his ass.”
* “I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.”

* “Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?”
* “This fucked-up bitch is Marsellus Wallace’s wife! Do you know who Marsellus Wallace is? Do you? If she croaks on me, I’m a fuckin’ greasespot!”

* “I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced. No marriage counselling, no trial separation, I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced.”
* “Did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?”

* ” If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.” (I am going to call out Devon on totally having this complication in real life, because it’s his favorite thing to quote when demanding that me or Mikaela or anyone else to do something in a completely unreasonable timeframe.)
* “You see that, young lady? Respect. Respect for one’s elders gives character.”
* “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.”
* “I get my car back any differently than when I gave it, Monster Joe’s gonna be disposing of two bodies.”

/////BONUS (2016) Moderators/Admins-
* “I love rules! They make me powerful!”

I had more planned, but to be honest, the one-month ban from made me feel like my sample complications would have less of a

If you had any questions about how any of those complications are supposed to work (in what situations would you bust them, in what situations would you raise them, etc, why are their so fucking many for In Bruges.), email

Worlds End. Heroes Die. Systems Malfunction.

I saw what you did there, Thom, and if Harvey Keitel wasn’t so fucking awesome, you’d never have gotten away with it.

In two and a half weeks, I will have been developing this game, this setting, and this world, for exactly 12 years of my life (add 2-3 years if you count the videogames too, which started development in 2001). For that entire time, I have been trying to make it a thing. I feel like I have finally “brought the thunder” enough that I feel like I actually have a chance of making that happen.

This is a very early rough of a single piece of promotional art. It might not be enough to get you hyped, but it gets me fucking HYPED.


Actually, it’s 10 of them. And that makes me HYPED X 10.

I am hereby officially announcing that our Kickstarter for Systems Malfunction the tabletop roleplaying game is launching on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016.

Artificial Nocturne

Accompanying the Kickstarter will be an 80,000 word braided fiction featuring stories from yours truly, Mikaela Barree, Richard Kelly, John Jemmott, and others. While this will give our monowire sharp deadlines to contend with, our intention is to have the first story ready to launch by the 21st and to launch one story roughly every three days thereafter, on the KS main page. There will be 11 stories total.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology set in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to show up why that universe is FUCKING AWESOME: smart, literate, literary, genre-savvy, morally ambiguous, violent, profane, beautiful, science-fiction like you’ve never seen it before, with vampires fighting robots in goddamn motherfucking space.

Most of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the LARP it’s based on. Some of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the amateur CRPGs it’s based on. The rest of them will have to learn as they go.

It is the year 556 R.T…

D-042 “Jersey City” is an artificial nocturne. It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy (our principal characters). It’s just as fucked up as they say. It’s an outsider’s escape for a broken heart. You can buy anything there. Anyone.

They hide out in the back. They are the YWY (pronounced like “Why” singular, or “whys” plural), a sleeper cell of the Fallen that is wide awake. They are kids, all, terrorists all — age 3 to 300. Some of them are 200 year old psychic aliens. Some of them are robot prostitutes. Some of them are psychic cyborg immortal posthuman teenage prostitutes with a grudge against the po.

They are all terrorists. They are all kids.

They are our heroes. This story is about them and the shadow of a life they eke out around and beneath a space station with 250.5 million souls on board and a million stories.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to introduce it while telling a COMPLETELY NEW STORY within it (believe me, I have a LOT I could have rebooted).

Artificial Nocturne is informed by and keys to the album Synthetica by the rock band Metric.

It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure

I’ve had a couple of DicePunk adventures planned for a couple of months. The first of these, “Escape From Cleveland”, a Psionics adventure set during the Republican National Convention, I was really excited about this fucked up and awesome idea. But the closer we’ve gotten to the general election, the more and more terrifying Trump’s inevitable rise to power has seemed compared to his merely possible rise to power  and the less and the less fun this adventure has seemed to write and playtest. I might actually leave the country if/when Trump wins. I don’t know that I’m feeling as keen on statting the fucktard  giant douche in DicePunk as I was back in July.

Instead, what we have coming up for some point in the future is an adventure I like to call No Country For Great Old Ones. It’s southern-fried cops and robbers a la recent incredibly amazing film Hell or High Water only with a ‘dash’ of the supernatural thrown in. We plan on releasing it “quad-statted” for DicePunk (specifically, Phantasm), Delta Green, HERO System 5E (Revised), and Savage Worlds, assuming that we can get all the licensing lined up. It’s going to be the tits.

This Is Entertainment

The SPLINTER Quick-Start Rules are called SPLINTER: This Is Entertainment. It will be a free PDF booklet (some dead tree copies possible for Free RPG day) that will include everything you need to jump into SPLINTER including pregenerated players/Avatars and an introductory adventure. In other words, the world’s weirdest RPG just got a bit more accessible.

It’s currently on schedule for a Christmas season 2016 release thanks almost entirely to one Richard Kelly. Richard: TYVM for keeping this particular ETG assault vessel on track and on target.

In Closing

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks everyone for listening to my blather and turn in next Thursday for another Transmission From The End.


Transmissions From The End #002 -The Ghost of Diana Jones

“We’re movin’ on up, to the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.”

As I mentioned recently, we just did up GenCon 2016 really fucking hard, and now we’re down from some R&R. But today is THORSDAY, and that means YOU, dear reader, get another Transmission From The End.

GenCon – Financial Transparency

Our games/books (games which are also books, books which are also games!) sold like hotcakes at GenCon. With our $25,000 sponsorship plus who-even-knows how much overhead for air fare and hotel lodging, it was literally impossible for us to break even. But I believe we grossed close to $4,000 in sales which means if you were to count our overhead only as our Entrepeneur’s Alley booth (which we got for $1000 as a first-year-at-GenCon company and which was upgraded to a double-sized endcap as part of our sponsorship), we actually netted at least $2,000+ in “profits”.

We came close to selling out of nearly everything, and we did sell out of Anathema, DicePunk Core, and the Systems Malfunction setting, although we didn’t bring terribly many of any of those.

DEMO-Lition Derby

I’d like to thank Kelly’s Heroes once again for running two games of SPLINTER and two games of Psionics on Friday. I was sad that we didn’t manage to get the GMs”Psionic Phantasms” or the three existing “Glory & Gore” episodes in time for them to feel comfortable running them, so instead they ran two instances of “Code Grey” (Psionics) and two instances of “The Race For Szenys’ Tomb” (SPLINTER). I understand those instances ran well and I definitely look forward to working with Kelly’s Heroes in the future.

Our new Interrim Director of Sales, Logistics, and Marketing John Jemmott ran a packed table of Singularity System (Systems Malfunction flavor) and a packed table of Psionic Phantasms and I understand acquitted himself heroically. Thanks for stepping up, John! In more way than one.

I’d also like to thank our SPLINTER and Psionics writer Richard Kelly for running three games of “Glory & Gore”:  one no-show, one that only two-people showed up to that went great, and then a packed table of eight that was apparently kind of a hot mess, due to no fault of Richard’s own. Apparently people were expecting a rules-lite, thinking-lite, cheerful and bright storygame from SPLINTER, my dark, ruthlessly cerebral, crunchy, tactical RPG and Richard’s delightfully disturbing and atmospheric “Digitarchs” dungeon…clearly some shit got miscommunicated along the way, and I’m sure that Rich K did the best with what he had.

In the future, I want to work harder on getting better event presence at conventions and getting better online presence for our organized play efforts such as the “Glory & Gore Living Campaign” for SPLINTER.

As for the two demos that I personally found time to run, here’s how they went:

Psionic Phantasms

Packed table, all eight PCs cast: Mindfucker, Juggernaut, Stormbringer, Firestarter, Sam Collins, Joey Collins, and Caleb Hendrix (vampire) and Del Finley (Aranea).

The Espers and humans came very close to killing each other for the first time in any time I’ve ever run this.

Firestarter and Joey Collins had to go two hours into the demo and became NPCs: I think Del Finley also left early, so I just had him go into his spider form and go eat some people that were further away from fire (the Firestarter unapologetically burned down the Collins’ house before leaving).

I had them become NPCs. Joey got kidnapped by the Tall Man in his hearse and the rest of the PCs followed to the mortuary to rescue him (side-note: I ruled that Espers could not bleed Overflow because they were being accompanied by a vampire and they all KNEW he was undead, because the Mindfucker had tried to Psychokinesis him and got the same result he’d get from Psychokinesis on a corpse). They found the blacked-out hearse parked outside the funeral home, and busted it open. Inside the casket inside was the Firestarter’s body, minus the brain. Emotional shock from this threw on about 20 Overflow which they couldn’t bleed because how can you relax when you’re around a vampire?

I was running about three hours late so I frontloaded all the danger to the first floor of the mortuary: namely, I sextupled the orbs. In the first hallway, the PCs pulped the two spheres I had there without any casualties. They weren’t so lucky in the main hallway, where I’d placed four spheres. The PCs put up a valiant fight, and might have won if the Vampire’s dice luck hadn’t been shit (with John Wu Special and Master in Pistols, he should have been able to drop at least one Orb a turn if he rolled just slightly above average). But the Stormbringer got brain-juiced, causing both the Juggernaut and the Mindfucker to overload due to emotional shock. The Juggernaut’s initiative came up first. He made his Will check to stagger away, but all orbs and all PCs were still caught in the Obliteradius and killed, except for Caleb, who survived on the strength of having crazy Vampire Health. The second turn of the overload, the Juggernaut’s head exploded from overload damage.

Barely still-undead, Caleb the vampire stood in the middle of the carnage: all the orbs and every other PC were dead. The Tall Man opened a door from a nearby coffin show-room, holding NPC Joey by the scruff of the neck.

“Good evening,” said the Tall Man, ominously.

“Good night!” responded Caleb, and FUCKED RIGHT OFF, driving away into the night in his stolen Sheriff’s cruiser, the sole survivor.

I sold two copies of Psionics off the strength of the demo, one to Caleb and one to the Mindfucker.

Epic Battles In Space!: Star Wars Edition

So I expected this event to be super-packed because this Star Wars is kind of a little bit popular…maybe you’ve heard of it? So imagine my shock when I only wound up serving a table for two. Six more people were signed up for it, but they all had different emergencies come up and couldn’t make it.

The two kids I got were fairly omnivorous tabletop gamers and big Star Wars fans: one of them had just bought the Singularity System. I let one kid play the whole rebel fleet and the other kid play the whole empire. After the demo they went back and bought Biotech, Mind Games, and Firefight.

ANYWAY, as for the battle of Tatooine:

At the end of the first turn, the Tantive IV successfully broke off and escaped (the kid playing the rebels had the BEST dice luck I’ve ever seen outside of myself: the force was seriously fucking with him). Because that happened about three hours before the demo was scheduled to end, I decided to play through the awful pyrrhic battle that followed.

Only the Devastator and one of the two Star Destroyers survived. Every single other capital ship and fighter craft involved in the conflict was destroyed. The 36 X-Wings sent to destroy one of the star destroyers gradually killed their way through a screen of 72 Tie Fighters, but only six X-Wings were left when they actually made it to the attack run phase, and the Victory-II’s point defense guns ate them alive before they inflicted any serious damage.

So technically, the rebels won, but the real winner was the void that devours souls.

Other Fun Shit I Did

Way too little of it this year! This year I was so busy that I was essentially all business:

“All work and no play 
Keeps me on the new shit.”

I did manage to find the time, somehow, to sit down for forty minutes with our friends and neighbords at the Tower of Gygax and lose a seventh level D&D ranger to a swarm of his favorite enemy, goblins. I snapshotted this white board  they had which filled my heart and soul with gleeful delight:



Upcoming Products For The Rest Of 2016

Here is a partial roster of the products we have cooking for the rest of 2016:

  • Richard Kelly and I are going to collaborate on SPLINTER: This Is Entertainment, a free Quick Start Rules package for SPLINTER. Street date: Christmas Season, 2016.
  • SPLINTER: Return To The Dread Abyss of the Digitarchs by Richard Kelly is one of the best modules that I have ever seen for any game ever, and I couldn’t be prouder that it’s for SPLINTER. Street date: Christmas Season, 2016.
  • Systems Malfunction–a standalone scifi RPG containing both the Singularity System and the incredible Systems Malfunction setting– is coming to Kickstarter in October.
  • Singularity System MOD04: INFOWAR by Devon Oratz with John Jemmott will enter initial writing in early September, for a street date of Christmas Season, 2016.
  • Escape From Cleveland, a DicePunk/Psionics  adventure by Devon Oratz will enter initial writing/production in early September, for a street date of Christmas Season, 2016.

I Wrote A Goddamn Poem

For the first time in about five years. And you get to read it, you lucky dog you. I make no apologies for the inside jokes and “you just had to be there” moments it describes.

I Am The Ghost of Diana Jones

This one goes out to the one I love
(This one goes out to the one I left behind)

Like a herd of scruffy-looking nerf herders,
we stagger through the streets of Indianapolis,
a gaggle of professional nerds.
“They left the bar at 9? What are we, school teachers?” I demand rhetorically of anyone who will listen.

Of course I am already very drunk and quite high. After all, it’s Wednesday night.

I am slow to realize that the seven-block exodus is simply taking us from the Irish pub we are late to
to the bar beneath the bridge
a moot of dwarven philosophers gathered
at the booze stockpile
fencing with their business cards
to confer the highest honor they can
on whoever they damn well please
without the slightest threat of accountability

I want to stay because I feel like I could get so blasted I spend the rest of the night
talking to John Wick
either one (this is an inside joke)
but the outdoor voices in the interior of the Ranch
(a bunch of introverts suddenly turned inside out, no doubt, loudly discussing theory and games and podcasts)
become an unbearable deafening sussurus
that drives me away
temporarily insane (1/1d10)
into the hot Indiana night

“I am either at a haunted award show,”
I text
“Or the hipster singularity.
I can’t tell.”

(leaving with Mikaela, I tell the bartender the definition of sussurus
and that he can find John Wick–the REAL John Wick–inside
he does not quite believe me
the fool)

To “Cogwheel Gelignite”, we bellow, obscure amongst obscurity in this toast
to an unsung engineer of Mount Nevermind,
(a girl I do not know
with a Pikachu tank-top
and a midline incision surgical scar
hugs my girlfriend again and again and again)
and down goes the poisonous green liquid.

Pounding shots with Kelly Slaughter and his crew of heroes
(work is the curse of the drinking class, I tell him, mugging Oscar Wilde to do so,
but I have to explain it, and much later, look up that it is Oscar Wilde)
we toast the memory of a wargamer eight long years dead
who built or discovered the magic portal that leads us
to thousands upon thousands of Worlds.

NOW: alcohol has made sleep even more insurmountable than sex
(I can think of at least two songs called “Too Drunk To Fuck”,
but none about trying to sleep as your liver’s frantic
blissful oblivion into the waking nightmare of a hangover)
and I ponder the imponderables of an American dream
on what might be the last Summer we the young and foolish have left to us
before a tragicomic orange fascist from Queens
proves to be the Not-So-Secret-Hitler
that destroys
or the world

A simple prop
to occupy my time
this one goes out to the one I love.



UPDATE (Crosspost from ETG Tumblr)

Why did we pick Tumblr? I literally can’t remember.

Systems Malfunction: The LARP: The Resurrection: If we get six more preregistrations today, and have an attendance of 20+ on July 8th, there will be a game. If not, this dream goes back in its coffin indefinitely, but maybe not forever. Here’s hoping.

SPLINTER: Surprising Things: ATTN Backers, assuming our printer doesn’t poo the bed, we should be mailing out books starting next week.

Also, Glory and Gore, the SPLINTER Living Campaign, got off to a rocky start because of a SNAFU in Origins’ preregistration system. I’m hoping for a more robust launch at GenCon.

DicePunk: The Pleasantville Project by Richard Kelly, the first Psionics adventure, is out! First of how many? Depends entirely on how it sells. So, you know. Buy it! (Apparently, as I type this it’s on sale? Kick ass, who knew!) It’s awesome. It’s the first thing we’ve published that I didn’t write even close to a majority of, and so I feel less iffy about saying that it’s awesome.

Singularity: MOD04 – Infowar, the book of the hackings for The Singularity System, is tentatively slated for a GenCon Release.

GenCon: We’ll FINALLY be at GENEVA CONVENTION (that’s what GenCon actually stands for, if ya didn’t know) in a booth of our very own: #2853 (mother of God that dealer’s hall is BIG)! Stop by and say hi. Get some books! Get your books signed! Etcetera. I should repeat this announcement several times before the show is upon us.

Leet Haxorz

This is an early draft of the Words (introduction) chapter  from the upcoming Singularity System sourcebook “Infowar”:

Hacking is cool! It’s one of the cornerstones of science fiction, especially cyberpunk. Console cowboys jacking their brains into the matrix to ride the electron high, otaku in basements lit only by the green glow of screens, fingers flying over the keys as they crack through encryption, cyber-commandoes spoofing the camera sensors of enemy robots and the cyber-eyes of enemy soldiers to become invisible, and so on, and so on.

Why is hacking in roleplaying games so rarely cool? Why are hacking rules in games so often, in fact, a complete nightmare to interact with?

Let’s look at one case study that I’m intimately familiar with: Shadowrun. The game has a setting that is universally beloved, yet through three decades and five editions, its hacking rules have been almost universally described as impenetrable, incomprehensible, over-complicated, nonsensical, and just not very fun. For the first three editions of the game, hacking was a very complicated minigame that dedicated hacker-archetype characters (“Deckers”) could play for hours with the GM while the rest of the gaming group went out for pizza or played Super Smash Brothers or something. Or sat around the table bored and increasingly disengaged.

For these reasons—the unapproachable complexity of the rules and the “let’s all go get pizza while the Decker does whatever it is he does factor—most players at most tables simply did not play Deckers. The hacking rules were hand-waved entirely, or Decking was something that the PCs hired NPCs to do, and could therefore be handled smoothly off-camera without engaging with the rules. Decker became synonymous with NPC at most tables. And this attitude—people don’t actually play Deckers—would later become an insurmountable handicap to actually making hacking in the game fun.

The fourth edition of the game took a few steps in the right direction by making everything wireless, meaning that hackers could roll with the team and hack everything within line of sight. This encouraged Deckers to be with the team rather than waiting in a van somewhere. There were a few basic problems with this.

Let’s say that you had a Decker who wanted to hack an enemy’s gun or an enemy’s cyberware to deactivate them, in the middle of a firefight.

This was possible, but it took at least four times as long and was at least four times as complicated as a street samurai shooting someone in the face or a mage blasting someone with a manabolt. The net result of this was that the enemy whose gun you were thirty percent of the way done hacking usually had already had his head blown off by the street samurai or was incinerated by the mage’s fireball.

To make matters worse, it was always possible to set “wireless” on your gear to “off”, making you immune to hackers. Early supplements introduced the “skinlink”, which let you do the above, but explicitly without any of the drawbacks of not having an active wireless connection. In other words, every character had the cheap option to just “set hacking to no” and be immune to hacking. So of course every player character took that option.

The fifth edition of this game tried to address these issues in a way that more or less universally failed to fix anything, and in some cases actively made things worse. One interesting thing was, at the time, I was lobbying for hackers to be able to hack enemies’ guns or cyberware as quickly and as simply as the street samurai could shoot someone or the shaman sling a spell. In other words, I wanted to make hacking simpler and more streamlined, and I wanted to remove the concept of “set hackable to off”. The fan base did not want any of this, because they all seemed to view hacking as something that would happen to their character, not something their character could do to others. The idea of deckers being able to hack someone’s cyberware or weapons in a single combat turn was offensive to them, because, subconsciously, PCs weren’t Deckers—no one actually plays deckers. This, of course, went back to the fundamental problem of the first three editions of the game: that hacking was so painfully complicated that no one wanted to engage with it. Therefore, it became an NPC activity.

That’s more than enough about Shadowrun. I don’t have nearly as much experience with other games where hacking is possible, but I’ve never heard of an RPG in which the hacking rules are especially fun and approachable.

Right now, my favorite hacking rules are the ones which amount to “make one (contested) roll, and if you succeed, you get the target system to do what you want it to”.

This is how I handle hacking in HERO System: if you want to hack a system, you make a Computer Programming roll. If the system’s security countermeasures were set up beforehand, then a retroactive Computer Programming roll is made for the character that set them up. If the system has some kind of active security monitoring—a dedicated wage slave white hat hacker or even an AI—then it makes a Computer Programming roll right now instead. If the hacker’s Computer Programming roll beats the system’s, they have access and get to do whatever they want. Dirt simple, right?

The other hacking “system” I liked was the way that I had a GM run Eclipse Phase for me once. Basically, if you wanted to hack something, you rolled Infosec and if you succeeded, you had hacked the target system and gotten it to do what you want. Pretty simple, right? Those Eclipse Phase guys must be some smart game designers. Except, actually cracking open the Eclipse Phase rulebook, and found an entire chapter full of hacking rules, The Mesh, which was no less than a whopping, very dense 35 pages long. It included literally over a hundred multi-level headings and sub-headings. Now I’ve never actually played with the Eclipse Phase hacking rules: for all I know they might be very good. But what I do know is that the way that the Eclipse Phase GM chose to handle hacking was not representative of them, and that this doesn’t necessarily speak to their accessibility and ease of use.

So again, we come to our question. Why is hacking in roleplaying games so rarely cool? Why are hacking rules in games so often, in fact, a complete nightmare to interact with? Why are hacking systems in most games so complicated than a hand-wavy stopgap of “to hack a thing, roll hacking, and if you succeed, you hacked the thing” can actually be more fun to play with than the rules that were written?

I think that the problems with hacking in games can be traced back to the problems with hacking in movies. Think back to any movie you have ever seen with “Hollywood Hacking” in it. Real hacking is cool, but it is boring to watch. Boring is anathema to Hollywood, so instead we get “Hollywood Hacking”, scenes and portrayals of hacking created by people that obviously know fuck-all about computers. And this can quickly become very, very silly:



Hacking in real life mostly involves hours and hours of cautious, exacting, and tedious “sitting at a computer, entering commands into a text prompt”. At a minimum, Hollywood hacking requires a hacker who is typing as fast as humanly possible, as though the speed at which he types is directly related to his chance to penetrate computer security. But Hollywood also likes really excessively flashy graphical interfaces—the exact thing that real hackers don’t use because they are an unnecessary distraction and a waste of bandwidth. But usually a flashy GUI isn’t enough and the hacker is manipulating three dimensional holographic polygons or navigating through a three dimensional digital maze or some shit. It has fuck-all to do with real hacking, but it looks cool.

Anyone who knows anything about how computers and hacking in real life, tends to have a negative reaction to this portrayal. Uproarious laughter at the dumbness on display is probably the most common reaction, but actual annoyance is a close second.

brain's like 'peace'

“Oh My God. This is…this is brain poison.”
– Penny Arcade, “Brains With Urgent Appointments”

Sometimes the stupidity of Hollywood Hacking with its “rule of cool” departures from reality is even played up to the point of parity. Meet Kung Fury’s Hackerman:


“It means that with the right computer algorithms, I can hack you back in time.”

On average, people who make (roleplaying) games know and care a lot more about how computers work in real life than people who make movies. When I look at the hacking rules designed for the roleplaying games I talk about, what I see is a desire to make the rules for penetrating computer security realistic, and not silly, stupid, and dumb like the Hollywood Hacking described above. In and of itself, this is a noble goal, but realism (as opposed to genre­-realism, which is essential), except when used in very carefully restricted doses, is poison to game design. Because reality is not inherently fun, and games must be. Realism is like any spice used in cooking—use too much and you ruin the dish.

Compared to the smart people that made the Matrix rules for Shadowrun and the Mesh rules for Eclipse Phase, I know very little about computer science. In fact, almost nothing. Oh, I know enough to give a flavor of verisimilitude, and I know enough to ask someone smarter if I think knowing a bit about “how things really work” would help inform fun gameplay. But I have no investment in real computer science, and no loyalty to portraying it overly accurately when it comes to creating fun and playable rules for information warfare.

Hacking is cool, and for hacking to be cool in games, it cannot be strictly speaking “realistic”. Because games must be fun, and real life hacking is not fun to do—at least not in a way that is compatible with playing a game. Hacking also must be streamlined enough that the dedicated hacker character can resolve their hacking quickly in real time, without everyone else getting bored and going out for pizza.

It is with these design goals in mind that I set out to design hacking and information warfare rules for the Singularity System—compatible with any science fiction setting—that are both easy to use and fun.