Exiting the Gray Goo Zone

After the apocalypse, when the nanite swarm blankets the earth, some of them will form coalitions to recreate some of the silly bipeds by merging together into biomechanical organisms.

Because what else are you going to do once you’ve blanketed the earth and everyone who wants to has built their interstellar vehicles?

Some REALLY atypical RPG settings

A post over at Topless Robot listed some good “atypical” RPG settings. You know, like Paranoia, Toon, and . . . Traveller? Pendragon? Wait, those are supposed to be weird?

Weak sauce, gentlemen. Weak sauce.

Traveller is a bog-standard hard science fiction with the addition of FTL travel. Pendragon is about Arthurian Britain, one of the longest-lived settings of adventure in our whole freakin’ culture. You want some unusual RPG settings? How about . . .

1. Bunnies and Burrows

You’re rabbits. Not magic, super-powered rabbits, just rabbits going through their everyday lagomorph lives. One of the yummiest things in God’s creation, cursed to a life of frantic fucking HOPING that enough of your kids survive red-tailed hawks to continue your family line. My college gaming buddies and I had a running joke for RPG nights when time was running short: Bunnies and Burrows vs. Cthulhu in the Old West.
GM: Uh, OK, you see an elder god.
PCs (in chorus): We wiggle our widdle noses at it!
GM: OK, you’re dead. There’s no medicine to heal you. 2 pts. for your next character.

2. GURPS Fantasy 2: Mad Lands

What were they smoking? Steve Jackson Games marketed this as their next big fantasy line. You kinda have to applaud them for such a gutsy move, but this game is all edgy and weird and Burroughs-esque without being much fun. The Mad Lands are home to a band of primitives subject to the whims of mad, chaotic gods. “Lobsters hung from her ear lobes; her body was covered with armor made of live, writhing sea urchins.” That’s a DIRECT quote from a story in Roleplayer. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a line from The Naked Lunch.

3. Broncosaurus Rex

The U.S. Civil War continues hundreds of years in the future. With dinosaurs. The Confederacy freed their slaves ages ago, so there’s no worrying about petty morality when your character flies the Stars and Bars. From the back of a triceratops. On another planet.

4. Little Fears

Children face down monsters in the closet. SCARY ones. The kind who want to slice your parents up for Sunday dinner or lock kids down in Uncle Touchy’s Naked Puzzle Basement. The book is beautifully done and there’s actually a good, albeit inconsistent, game in here. Fair warning—only very mature roleplayers should play this game.

5. Over the Edge

An absurdist conspiracy game on a fictional Mediterranean island. There’s lots of corruption, violence, drug use, and gambling. The whole shebang’s run by Monique, an aging President-for-Life who used to bang Mussolini. The one time we played Over the Edge the players got obsessed with the pizza delivery drivers who could travel through time. Lots of fun, with light and adaptable rules.

6. GURPS Goblins

Greedy, despicable, disgusting characters in Georgian London. At least they have an excuse: they’re goblins. This is an RPG within a Hogarth cartoon where greed, lechery, and base ambition make for a darkly comic, one of a kind experience.

7. Singing Cowboys (All Flesh Must Be Eaten)

RIghteous, root-beer drinking, God-fearing singing cowboys fighting zombies. I seriously have to wonder if anyone’s ever played this. I love All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a survival horror RPG with an elegant, versatile rules set that’s right in my sweet spot. But the Fistful o’ Zombies supplement was designed to integrate zombies with Western films, and someone noticed that a lot of old Westerns were low-budget flicks about singing cowboys. Even in-game the zombies are deliberately tacked on—the premise here is that a B-movie director is shoehorning monsters into his failing films, and the PCs are the clueless characters in the serials. The other settings in the book Fistful o’ Zombies are actually quite good; Singing Cowboys just comes off as pointless and odd.

8. Psychosis: Ship of Fools

PCs have to unravel multiple layers of reality with a tarot deck. I think the authors were going for an Illuminatus meets Dark City feel that doesn’t pan out. I never played this one, but I have read the book. You’ve gotta be a crackerjack writer to pull off a premise that ambitious and, well . . . that didn’t happen. It’s just overly twisty and boring, like talking to a hippie while the two of you are on different highs.

9. Human-Occupied Landfill (H.o.L.)

The grand champion of bizzarro roleplaying games.  The PCs live as prisoners on a giant landfill planet at the ass end of the galaxy. There’s bug-eyed aliens and orcs and toxic mutants and a sodomite biker gang. The whole damn book was handwritten for press. The game feels like being trapped in the gross-out drawings of an angry, disturbed, skilled 13-year-old.

Dscript Can Generate Script and Runes

"Held Action" rendered in Dscript.

“Held Action” rendered in Dscript.

Dscript is a form of writing designed for economy of pen strokes and combining all the letters of a word into one character. While it uses the same letters as the English language, it represents the letters differently than the Roman alphabet with which many people are familiar.

The immediate use for role-playing games is creating mysterious inscriptions and runes via the Dscript generator. A full prophecy can be rendered in Dscript and printed out, before applying aging techniques to create a page torn from a tome. A wizard’s personal rune of power can be ginned up from slapping random characters together; I experimented with “xkcd.” In an interstellar milieu, Dscript can become the script of a galactic society — Basic is often the Common of science fiction settings — helping create the sense of an extended, far-reaching culture, or coexisting written practices, such as the alien alphabets seen on Futurama.

Opening lines of Dante's "A new life."

Opening lines of Dante’s “A new life.”

Dscript’s designer points out that the generator isn’t perfect. Generated text “pales in comparison to the hand written form.” There’s a free manual available for download with samples of bodies of text, like the opening lines of Dante’s “A new life,” shown to the right. Using Dscript with ease sounds like a huge undertaking — think about how long it takes a child to achieve fluency writing in their native alphabet — but the manual can still provide inspiration in diagramming the characters and their use, as well some other examples of passages rendered in Dscript.

Dscript is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution. The designer notes attribution exceptions are freely provided on request. Thanks to Dragonlover for posting the link to Dscript on RPG.net.

Millennium’s Edge: The Trinity 2997 Project

Let’s make it Trinity Thursday, shall we?

Millennium’s Edge is another fan project for the science fiction role-playing game Trinity. This one skips ahead almost a thousand years to final years of the third millennium. Almost half a quadrillion humans are scattered among the planets of the Milky Way galaxy. After a long war against a resurgence of Aberrants, phenomenally powerful but twisted humans with an appetite for destruction, many of those worlds are isolated or lost.

Now, as human history approaches its fourth millennium, the mysterious Æon Institute emerges from centuries of self-imposed exile beyond the Rim to once again unite the galaxy in peace and enlightenment. Its agents, the psychomorphs, bring interstellar contact, guidance and long-lost knowledge to the Three Million. The Æonites have a huge task ahead of them, some would say an insurmountable task, and many do not welcome their return. But they have on their side three advantages: the power of psionics; the determination that comes from knowing their cause is just; and the leadership of the galaxy’s first — and greatest — clairsentient.

That’s a pretty spiffy set-up, isn’t it? Millennium’s Edge is sadly incomplete, looking at the table of contents. The inventive GM will find useful information in a timeline running from 1925 to 2997, plot seeds, sketches of factions at work in the galaxy and the table of contents itself, which in outlining the authors’ plans for Millennium’s Edge can spark all sorts of ideas for advancing Trinity to the far future.

India Underground

India Underground cover

The cover of India Underground.

The Chitra Bhanu — dark psions, chibs — were those rare psions gifted with the most remarkable of abilities, the ability to control the very fabric of the universe. The quantum forces of gravity, electromagnetism and weak and strong nuclear forces were their playground. They seemed to be the most powerful, shining beacon for the defense of humanity against the Aberrants, and they made their home in a land that shared their glorious brightness–the Bharati Commonwealth. Until they themselves fell to the Aberrants’ dark pursuit…or did they?

That’s the pitch for India Underground, a fan-written supplement for the science fiction role-playing game Trinity. In the twenty-second century, humanity has overcome catastrophes to begin taking its first steps among the stars, as well as rebuilding at home and in orbit. A series of supplements for the game detailed the psi orders, organizations that imbue people with psychic abilities of various aptitudes, and the regions of the world in which they are based.

One pairing, India and the Chitra Bhanu order of quantakinetics, seemed like it would be left out. I don’t know if a Chitra Bhanu book was ever on the horizon for Trinity‘s developers, but fans Slagg and Geoff Bain were inspired to write their own. As is the way of the internet, the PDF has become rather scarce on the ground. RPGnet poster Skywalker pointed this out. And I figured, “Why not host it here?” So here it is, with the following disclaimers: Trinity and associated elements are the property of White Wolf/CCP. India Underground is a fan-written supplement which I did not write. My motivation is to make it easily available again, as up to now the file mostly lurked on dodgy file-hosting services. Since it was released for free in the first place, I hope it is cool with the authors to keep it available to the inquiring public.


Globus Cassus

An orthogonal view of Globus Cassus.

An orthogonal view of Globus Cassus.

The Invisibles refers to the Kardashev scale, a speculative system of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement based on the amount of energy and resources it can wield. Loosely, a type one civilization uses what’s available on its local planet, type two can take advantage of the local star, and so on. A civilization capable of building Globus Cassus might be the pinnacle of type one — unless it took more energy than the planet contains to retrofit it into a hollow sphere.

Picture it: the Earth is mined for the material making up the core. That material is piled up on the outside and arranged in various ways. The squashed sphere of Earth becomes more like a flattened egg.[1] Some portions of the exterior become windows to let in light from the sun. Humanity lives on the portions of the interior where centrifugal force generates gravity, which provide more than ample living space. Low gravity and airless zones have specialized purposes: manufacturing, storage and so on.

Exerting that level of control over one’s environment must be a step on the road, probably an early one, to becoming peers with civilizations like the People or the Culture. How big — and ridiculously well-equipped — would an interstellar empire have to be to decide, “You know, there’s nothing happening in that star system. Let’s hollow out some planets to create habitable space”?[2]

On the other end of the timescale, an excavated world would be a fascinating artifact of a bygone civilization to run across in the deep of space. It’s a bit like Ringworld, but I’m put more in mind of Terry Pratchett’s Strata, for some reason. Maybe it’s the psychological component of going down into the hollow world. The exterior hides its secrets. Explorers “descend” into the unknown. There could be anything down there: bug-eyed monsters, detrimental robots, anarcho-syndicalist communes scraping by, anything!

It’s gnarly and a bit more atypical than yer Dyson sphere or ringworld. I like it.

Wikipedia article via @AllenVarney.

[1] A flattened icosahedron, no less!

[2] Come to think of it, I am reminded of the Draconis campaign frame in GURPS Bio-Tech, only remodeling the planet instead of terraforming it.

16-bit Doctor Who

Screenshot of the Dr. Who RPG video on CollegeHumor.com

Not quite the Doctor Who role-playing you may be looking for, here’s an amusing take of recent events in the show as a console RPG. Looking like it hails from the halcyon days of turn-based combat and curious choices in sentence construction, this video takes you through the last two seasons of Doctor Who, as seen through the lens of a console RPG. Companions are gained and lost, bizarre actions rendered as characters waving an arm in the air and through it all, we are reassured as to the reason for all these shenanigans.

Check out the video over on CollegeHumor.com.

Monday Mashup: The Madness Conspiracy

With the confirmation from Sean Punch that the contract for a new version of The Madness Dossier in some form has been signed and the resurgence of Conspiracy X material in recent months, the thought occurs to me that the two worlds would interlock rather snugly.

AEGIS is a ready-made secret agency to drop in the place of Project Sandman. Its agents are already trained to cover up unknowable horrors. The Red King and its implications are right in their wheelhouse. In that way, the impending threat of History B slots right into the world of AEGIS.

For a more integrated presentation, the irruptors match up fairly well with the Atlanteans. They’re still wielders of incomprehensible, godlike technology from another time, only that other time is now sideways rather than forward.[1] Their objective is to reclaim their world, rather than ensure its existence. And like Captain Chronos and other inscrutable time travelers, that objective may be served by acts that work in harmony with AEGIS agents’ own as often as they hinder.

[1] And I write that lacking the full skinny on the Atlanteans, not having yet pored over The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook.

The Kickstarter Compulsion

I’m starting to think of Kickstarter projects as addictive little rushes. I’ve done two now — I can’t remember if crowdfunding the original edition of Wild Talents was actual Kickstarter or something Kickstarter-esque — for Conspiracy X books. There’s more than a bit of frisson, repeatedly checking in on the total, wondering if the project will reach its goal in time.

Most recently, with The Paranormal Sourcebook, Eden Studios threw in some additional enticement. First they offered Zener cards for pledges of a certain level, then created a secondary fundraising goal, on attainment of which the pledged get GM screens for the game. The project reached that secondary goal today, so I’m feeling pretty jazzed, like I accomplished something good and right for the world. That’s probably a gross overestimation of a role-playing game supplement’s impact on the destiny of billions, but it’s possible the book may not have seen the life of day if I hadn’t pledged and done my portion of sharing links and so forth.

And that’s maybe one of the cleverer parts of Kickstarter: the projects are set up that the pledged are motivated to promote. They want the thing being promised, so it’s in their direct self-interest to make it happen by telling friends and interested parties. It’s a built-in marketing effort. And at the end of it, one gets to feel good for contributing to the creation of something that likely otherwise would not have existed.

Of course, I’m crowing before the game’s over. I haven’t actually gotten any of this stuff for which I’ve pledged. The Extraterrestrial Sourcebook has reportedly gone to the printer by now. I wasn’t happy that the two fundraisers overlapped such that I wouldn’t be able to receive and gauge the first book before the pledge deadline for the second passed, but I took a gamble. The play’s still underway, so we’ll see how it goes.

Conspiracy X Extraterrestrials Sourcebook is on Kickstarter

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Eden StudiosConspiracy X game line may see the light of the material world after all. Yesterday afternoon, George Vasilakos opened the Kickstarter page to put out the hard copy version of the book.

I jumped right on board, pledging enough money to get the printed edition. (I think I may have been one of the first two backers, actually . . . ) Of course, this being a Kickstarter project, Eden needs to raise the whole $5,000 by the November 30th deadline in order to collect the funds and send the book to the printer.

Conspiracy X has served me well as the engine for our Doctor Who campaign. I would love for crowd-funding to revive the series, which gets undue short shrift in the ever-balkanizing role-playing hobby. In addition to the Conspiracy X universe, which blends together the modern mythologies of Men in Black, grey aliens and other weirdness, the game is a solid platform on which to base any game in the modern era. Plus it’s cross-compatible with the other classic Unisystem games, and pretty equally compatible with Cinematic Unisystem material as well.

Furthermore, I would also love for this venture to show Eden Studios that crowd-funding can work for their other unreleased works, especially the WitchCraft supplements caught in their pipeline, so I have more than one reason to throw down for The Extraterrestrials Handbook. Not only could I get that book, but WitchCraft fans might have the opportunity to front for The Book of Geburah.