Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Shape of Everything (Campaign Setting, Races)

 anime christian wandering in the ruins of a post-Judgément system-scale megastructure

touchstones: blame!, kenshi, sunless horizon, evangelion, angel;s egge, revelation space, hellgate london, weta workshop concept art for neill blomkamp movies, deprecated lore for a starsector faction that i didn't make, that one homestuckesque browsergame about the sad lost aliens

36,000 hours ijn wholly uncited wikipedia pages on apocryphal jewish and christian theological texts


In addition to the regular GROG stuff, three-fifths of the types of folk have an extra stat called HUM (Humanity) to represent how recognizable their biometric data is as, well. This stat is always negative because all the baseline humans are long dead, and is generated by rolling it on some negative d4s directly. If you don't have any negative d4s, you can just roll regular d4s and subtract them from zero.

  1. Pilot
        The most common denizens of the Structure look much like you or I: Mostly hairless; brightly colored; six long, delicate fingers on each hand; plenty of flexible joints; several orifices to make Smells out of. An overloaded adrenal system allows them to react with preternatural speed in crisis scenarios, at the cost of severe stress to the vascular system.
        Pilots can take 1d6 damage in order to act immediately, even retroactively interrupting an action taken by someone else. They have minus 2d4 Humanity.
  2. Gammaprole
        The primary defining feature of gammaproles, also known as direfolk or shreks, is their size; eight feet tall on average; nearly as wide; cartoonishly blocky proportions. As a gammaprole ages, the dense bony plates which protect their organs push to the surface through their thick, rubbery skin to form keratinous scutes⸻an exceptionally painful process.
        Gammaproles have an extra 2 HP per HD on account of their transdermal bone armor, -1 DEX on account of their big, clumsy sausage fingers, and their STR operates on a different scale; they're always stronger than anything that isn't likewise Big or Hydraulic, and can bend gates, lift bars, or bench press a reasonably priced used Japanese automobile without issue. They have minus 3d4 Humanity.
  3. Locust Gibbon
        A friendly creature despite its alien bodyplan, the locust gibbon is six-limbed; fiercely chelicerae'd; tufted with shocks of stark white fur which spring forth from the joints of its chitinous exoskeleton. It speaks its own strange, chittering language and is an obligate mechanic who tends to wander⸻perhaps it is no wonder that so few have survived.
        Locusts Gibbon have an extra +1 INT on account of their efficient cataloguing of stimuli, -1 STR on account of their inefficient-at-scale musculature, and can ascend and descend sufficiently handhold'd passages as fast as a man can run⸻though they aren't much better at difficult climbs than anyone else. They can't speak⸻which is to say, actually vocalize⸻human languages without a translator, and are not Human.
  4. Ghoul
        Were the scientists of the past geniuses, or merely insane? Ghouls, also known as cyberpsykos, are undead; husks of prostheses and neuromuscular overrides animated by inbuilt subintelligent personality models⸻or, if you prefer, haunted by their own ghosts. They are often uncanny to speak to, at least those which have not yet fallen into completely violent incoherence over long centuries in the dark.
        Ghouls have an extra -2 CHA on account of their nonpersonhood, and don't need to eat, sleep, breath, or age. They have minus 1d4 Humanity, but roll checks against it with disadvantage on account of their mortally challenged condition.
  5. Skeleton
    So called for their fleshlessness and the general shape of their limbs, skeletons are purely artificial beings constructed with enough personality and independence to be readily distinguished by that means⸻even putting aside their uniform shape and size⸻from dumb Robots or universally hostile Archons. Although generations old as a rule, they cannot be coaxed or coerced to speak about the past. Do they truly not know, or do they just have a really, really good reason for not telling?
        Skeletons have enough going on mechanically that they're a race-as-class. In order to be a skeleton, you have to take at least the א template before you can multiclass into something else. I can tell you right now that they're not Human.


  1. Methuselah, a sort of wizard.
  2. Solar, a type of magical girl.
  3. Fisher-Man, you know, like a fighting-man
  4. Kenshi, a sword and swordplay enthusiast.
  5. Stalker, a ranger, arguably.
  6. Traceur, a thief-acrobat.


Something like this.

On Game Design, I Suppose: Big and Little Distinctions and How Much Space a TTRPG Has for Them

I'm not dead, I'm not, fuck you, I'm not. I'm not dead.

Before I start, I should probably explain what I mean by 'size' here.

I mean, like, conceptual size. How much of the book does it take up, how much does it impact the gameplay, and how much is it supported by mechanics to make up an interesting and meaningful choice for the player, a way to differentiate characters from one another.

And now I want to talk about Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e for a bit. 

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e (or '.5e for short) is the biggest dungeons and dragons, and also the best officially published one. It has a lot of very big systems. It's got races, some of which are huge; it's got skills which are pretty big, huge if you include skill tricks; it's got feats which are practically huge enough to be their own game; and of course it has both classes and prestige classes which interact with everything else and let you dip in and out of them to build you own thing.

This is obviously way the fuck too much. '5e also birthed the d20 system, which I think resulted in a massive waste of potential because nobody understood that it was too much.

'5e had to have all of those things, of course, because it was the generic. The point was never to play with all of them at once, it was that you'd prune the bits you don't need away and keep the one or two that you did. 

It is my strongly held opinion that d20 system games would be excellent if they had held to this design principle instead of building their own additional scaffolding over the teetering ruin of the entirety of '.5e.

Unfortunately this was never explained anywhere and probably isn't true. 

Ah, well, nevertheless,

I think a TTRPG generally has, on average, enough space in it for one big distinction, one little distinction, and stats.

Look at most GLOGs for an easy example: Race or species is your little distinction, you can be a beetleling or an elffolk or something and it probably gives you a perk and a drawback and maybe a little bit of culture. Class is obviously your big distinction, the main thing that makes your character different from the other characters. If a species gets big enough, it probably gets made into a class. And then you also have stats. This is nice and tidy, it works well, it's about as many things as a pl*yer can hold in their tiny brain at a time.

This is also backed up by my personal experience: I used to run a post-apocalyptic d20 system game. It started out with the d20 modern rules, for the first campaign. No species, everyone was human, but still a very big system: Classes, feats, skills, and stats. Still way the fuck too much, which rapidly became evident as I was trying to teach it to a bunch of people who had never played a TTRPG before. By the end of the third campaign, it had feats as a big distinction, skills as a small one, and stats. Then it ran smoothly.

Similarly, I am or have been in a handful of G20 games. These are notable because they don't even really have 'species' in the same way a lot of fantasy games do; you've got a race, which is actually a race, and that gives you a little bump to one derived stat and maybe a special ability if your Xharisma is high enough (in classic GLOG style). You've got a skill but it doesn't even have a lightweight system attached to it; it takes up no space at all. And you've got your stats. And you've got your class, which is most of what makes this PC different from that PC. And that's enough. It is probably the smoothest-running game I've had the pleasure of playing.

This interacts with other design elements that take up space, too, of course.

I have a GLOGhack. It started off much too big. I can say this quite confidently after playtesting it. But it has relatively small species, a lightweight skill system, big classes, stats...

Well, that's already two small distinctions (species and skills) when it should really have one, but both of those are pretty small and could probably fit in together. I think they're forgivable. GROG/the Mountain wosn't too big because of species and skills, not specifically.

But those aren't the only things taking up 'space' in it. It had a cool, innovative, novel dice mechanic, and weapon tags. The realization here is that those take up space too, I guess, in a less easily categorizable way.

I dunno where I'm going with this and it's been sitting in my drafts for over two years and it's probably fairly self-evident to you if you're the type of person who would read this and it's rambly as all hell, so I'm just gonna post it now.