Singularity System

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)

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

-MARGE GUNDERSON-
* “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.”

-STEVE BUSCEMI-
* “… 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?”

-PETER STORMARE-
* “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)

-RAY-
* “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?”

-KEN-
* “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)

-JULES-
* “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!”

-VINCENT VEGA-
* “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. ”

-BUTCH-
* “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.”

-MARSELLUS-
* “…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.”

-MRS. MIA WALLACE-
* “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!”

-JIMMIE-
* “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”?”

-THE WOLF-
* ” 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)

-RPG.net Moderators/Admins-
* “I love rules! They make me powerful!”

I had more planned, but to be honest, the one-month ban from RPG.net 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 aventine.iconoclast@gmail.com.

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.

movie-poster-rough-options

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.”
Lorde

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:

IMG_0560

FUCK YEAH OSR

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.

LATER:
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
churning
turns
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
America
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:

 

217521921_7gxmh-2100x20000

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:

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.

Stuff Goes In, Games Come Out

Resolution 2016.1: Blog More. 

To make this easier, I’m going to try to stop waiting “until the stars are right” to make a blog post, and that includes that I’ll stop waiting until I have a fascinating topic. Loads of internet folks have huge followings just for consuming media and pontificating on it publicly, and while I doubt I’ll achieve any such following, I can do one better: I don’t just consume stuff and pontificate on it, an alchemical process in my brain cave turns stuff into game content. This is happening constantly, so there’s no need for a special occasion to “blog” upon. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, maybe this will be a one-off or a very occasional thing.

Ok, let’s go!

Watching

The Simpsons: Is there any doubt in anyone’s minds that this is the greatest American comedy program ever made? Almost 30 seasons at my fingertips means countless hours of binging. I always have this on in the background even if I’m not watching it: it’s comforting to me. I don’t really like Season 25 and on: it’s not the quality of the episodes, which is eh (debatable), it’s that seeing the Simpsons talk about smart phones and twitter makes me feel like I’m living in a parallel dimension. I remember too vividly when the family couldn’t afford cable. Season 10 and earlier are pure comfort food for the troubled mind and the quality of the next 6-8 seasons is surprisingly high too. The mix feels a bit off in the Season 18-Season 22 range, like maybe the cynicism is a bit too high. This bears further investigation.

Fargo: I watched the entire first season (amazing, my favorite part was all the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that Malvo was not even human, and when we saw the wolf in the finale I exclaimed half-ironically “It’s Malvo! He’s taken wolf-form!”) and now I’m slow-crawling my way through the second. It’s definitely entertaining, but I’m not convinced yet it’s of the caliber of the first season, I’m giving it a fair shake. I’m definitely wondering what the fuck is going on with these UFOs.

Oh, the whole “rain of fishes” thing in Season 1 really messed with me, because like an unthinking dolt I actually believed that the series–and the movie it was following on–was “based on a true story”. Then I reread those ponderous opening captions more closely. “This is a true story”…no, it fucking isn’t…very, very tricksy.

Parasyte: The MaximI’m not a big fan of anime in general (although I have watched a TON of it over the years) but I can’t recommend this series strongly enough. Like the manga it’s based on, it hooks with black humor (VERY black humor) and body horror but over the 24 episode run it morphs into something very different…almost like a very philosophical and very dark “boy and his dog” story. It’s chock-full of fascinating characters, interesting philosophical underpinnings, and cool gory tentacle fights.

Oh Yeah: Like everyone else, I saw the new Star Wars.  It was alright. I’m not a Star Wars fan and I never have been, so in that sense my opinion doesn’t really matter. But…I can’t deny that it’s a good film. It’s just so formulaic and so manufactured…it is exactly what needed to be made to erase the “old shame” of the godawful prequels and make the franchise economically viable. But however deftly it accomplishes its goals as a piece of commercial entertainment, it also seems totally uninterested in being art, which is why it’s no surprise that it isn’t.

Reading

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker: I was looking for this one for a while before I got it for Christmas. I’m not sure if it was actually hard to find or if I just wasn’t looking that hard. Anyway, I was hoping it would add some insight to the movie it inspired, “Hellraiser”, which is a solid flick (unlike its many sub-par sequels) but I thought might have suffered a bit for having been made at the time it was made at (the 80s) with the budget it was made with (not a whole heck of a lot). I was particularly hoping for some more insight about the Cenobites, AKA the Theologians of the Gash (what a phrase!). Anyway, no luck there. The Hellbound Heart is an excellent novella and “Hellraiser” is a very faithful adaptation by its author. About the biggest change I spotted was that Kirsty seems to just be a friend of Rory’s rather than his daughter, like she is in the film version. The novella ends just as abruptly as the movie, if not moreso.

Sandman: Overture: Neil Gaiman wrote a new Sandman storyline for the first time in two decades. Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t but then I got it for Christmas out of nowhere. Now you know it is a thing. It’s a prequel. Go read it. Anyway, to my surprise, while I wouldn’t for a second have read it if Gaiman’s name wasn’t attached, the words really weren’t the big deal here. This is the prettiest comic book I have ever seen by a huge margin. I am not a big art guy as a rule, but the art is BEYOND amazing. I would describe it without irony as hypnotic. This is a picturebook that any adult could stare at for hours.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance: So I finally got a copy of this. I’m only about ten pages in, but damn. Did you know this Jack Vance guy invented “Vancian casting”? That’s the magic system that Gary Gygax chose for Dungeons & Dragons, and which has been wedded to the game ever since. The idea that wizards memorize a certain number of spells which they then cast and then “forget”? That comes DIRECTLY from here. Pretty cool, right? That’s why I wanted to read it. Anyway, as I said I’ve barely got a toe in and shit is crazy. Everyone is a wizard and a high level wizard and one guy’s brain can know about four spells at a time and another guy’s brain can know about four or like six if he takes kind of crappy ones and everyone is making ladies in vats because I mean why not and some of the ladies are defective and kill the other vat-ladies and they’re like “oh shit gotta make more ladies cause we’re wizards and that’s what you do” and the shit is just nuts. I’m only like 15 pages in and we’re already at like…peak wizard. Or if we’re not…damn.

Thing I just learned: Vecna is an anagram of this guy’s name. I mean holy shit, you guys.

Playing

-Videogams-

Currently NOT Playing Fallout 4: I abruptly stopped playing this about three weeks ago for no particular reason. I didn’t finish it, I had four characters in various factions of various builds at various levels of progress and I was having a grand old time. Then, suddenly, I lost all interest in continuing, like the bottom fell out. It could be burn-out, I guess, but I don’t feel burnt-out. What’s going on here? Am I going to die?

Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup: Roguelikes are a perennial obsession of mine, and DCSS is the greatest roguelike I have ever played. I am not sure if it is THAT hard or I am THAT bad at it or some combination of the two, but I’ve been playing this game on and off since at least…2012…2011?…earlier? More off than on, sure, but still logged at least a couple hours. Now don’t laugh, but I finally got my very first rune of zot…yesterday. (I’m playing a MiFi for those in the know. Apparently, MiFi is the “master race” based on the results of the 2015 Crawl tournament: Minotaurs and Fighters scored by far the most ascensions.) Cataclysm: DDA is still amazing and Dwarf Fortress is still crack, but DCSS is definitely the “traditional” Roguelike for me. I tried Nethack and I definitely was not able to ‘hack’ it.

Anyway DCSS has somehow taken over from my Fallout 4 as my primary timewaster instead of more like a cofeebreak kinda time-waster, which is astonishing. How does this happen. How does a $0 game with graphics that would not have impressed in the year 1990 take away my attention from a $60.00 cutting edge AAA Bethesda game? I don’t get it.

Halo 5: Guardians: Late to the party on this one, just got an XBone. The lack of couch co-op is fucking UNCONSCIONABLE and I hate that I’m playing this because I do not want to support that kind of shitty and awful design decision but I’m too much of a junkie for the ongoing story of Master Chef and his quest to serve the galaxy cuisine.  Anyway, not done yet, but I just want to say that Cortana “turning evil” is a plot point I have been feverishly awaiting since the trailers for Halo 3 like circa 2007 or earlier.

-Tabletops-

For all you kooky kids who think that “tabletop games” means board games, when I say/hear “tabletop games”, I mean/think “tabletop roleplaying games”.

HERO System 5E: Sleep No More Season 2: This is a horror campaign I am GMing heavily influenced by Call of Cthulhu and even more heavily influenced by Delta Green, although there are other influences mixed in to create what I hope is a uniquely intense horror melange. Intensity is the byword of this campaign. This campaign has been going strong since around late August/early September, and six more sessions are planned before the “season” ends. The first Season of Sleep No More was played back in 2011: this second season has been set in the same universe, but a different part of it, and no PCs have directly carried over.

Singularity System: Systems Malfunction currently exists only in the form of a Singularity System tabletop campaign (but this should change in the future!). Mikaela is GMing and I am PCing: my PC is the captain of a stealth courier ship and we’re adventuring across the galaxy for profit, making enemies left and right! Sessions have been kind of far-flung and scattershot so far, so I’m hoping the schedule will tighten up going forward.

Dungeons & Dragons: I was supposed to be playing online in a 5E campaign but it seems to have fallen through, so I have been running some 3.5 dungeon crawling action for Mikaela as a solo campaign, heavily informed by item two in the above category. Playing with some fun house rules and custom tables, partially made up as I go along, which is not what I usually do, and which has been pretty fun.

Listening

Psychic Warfare by Clutch is an unbelievably kick-ass rock and roll album by a mind blowingly awesome band that just seems to keep churning them out like clockwork.

“Firebirds! Energy weapons!
Both of these things are interesting to me!
I don’t care how you get them
I need them both and I need them urgently!”

Who could possibly disagree?

 

 

Everyone Loves Free Spaceships, Right?

I made some new spaceships for the Singularity System. Specifically, the Systems Malfunction campaign setting of the Singularity System, which some of you may know from the about-to-turn-ten-years-old LARP of the same name. I figured I’d share them here for free. I’ve written up stats for two small craft,  three capital ships, and a space station (!!) plus a new Starship Bay Weapon that starships can’t actually mount, only space stations can. These should make for a neat add-on for any Systems Malfunction game, and nearly any ongoing Singularity System game you guys might be running.

Singularity System stats are provided but you could also adapt any of these ships for Traveller, Eclipse Phase, Star Wars, or whatever really, if you were so inclined.

The Singularity System didn’t really have rules for space stations, and I’m not formally writing them here. But they are basically what you would think. Immobile objects in space can’t use the Change Range and Facing action, can’t do Evasive Maneuvers, and they can’t Disengage from star combat. They effectively don’t have a Helmsman role or an Auto-Pilot subsystem or a Bridge to shoot at. They’re also sitting ducks to long-range weapons platforms unless they mount Extreme range weapons, so they almost always do.

The formatting is going to be really wonky for this stuff because WordPress doesn’t allow tables and tables would be a pain to set up so these will just be big sloppy lists. Sorry about that, maybe Mik can clean it up into a PDF later on.

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