Tuesday, March 19, 2024

In Search of the Best Crapsack Future


So I have had two (video-) gaming obsessions and three podcast obsessions that have managed to collide in a perfect storm of inspiration

And that has had me grinding away like mad at my google docs for about a week now.

Broken Robots and Lo-Fi Interfaces

Duskers is a game set at the end of time. You play a survivor who wakes up alone on an asteroid mining rig in deep space with no signs of life, no transmissions, and no activity in a universe far colder and darker than you remember.

Duskers Screenshot courtesy of Misfits Attic

To survive you move from derelict ship to derelict ship picking up parts, fuel, food, and air collected by repurposed drones meant for asteroid mining and ship hull repair. You experience the world through the computer terminal that your character is using to command the drones and control the doors of the ship you have hacked into.

As you explore, things start attacking your drones and attempting to get into your ship. They do an amazing job with atmospheric sounds like the pounding on your airlock door when you can detect a life-form in the airlock next to you, or the distant sound of rending metal when one of your drones is destroyed.

You don't get to see or fully understand your attackers because all you every get are blurry motion detector readings from your drones and sounds, which often makes the game thoroughly terrifying.

I last played Duskers several years ago when my wife was away at a family function, and was up late into the night. It legitimately gave me the heebie-jeebies, and that is a rare thing for a game to be able to do.

Recently I had to re-image an old laptop of mine as a LINUX box because it was no longer functioning with Windows 10 (it had been a Windows 7 box when it was first released on the market.) And that has got me hunting for LINUX-friendly games in my collection. I was delighted to find Duskers runs perfectly well on this laptop.

Being a Great Asset to the Company

Screetshot as I prepare to die horribly to collect
space trash fot the Man

I have also been really enjoy in the indie early access powerhouse that is Lethal Company, which I play with my Thursday night D&D group on Friday evenings or Saturday afternoons now and then.

Lethal Company features late 90s style graphics as you play human beings living in space. You and your team (this is definitely a cooperative game) work for an organization simply called "The Company" that has you scavenging the ruins of several human space colonies to bring back any useful salvage, from toys to fission power cells to scrap metal.

The ruins are decayed and perilous, often filled with steam and radioactivity, and are stalked by strange mutations and vicious monsters that can kill you in an instant if you let your guard down.

You start with nothing but a scanner and a space-suit and must buy equipment at exorbitant prices from The Company if you want anything at all. Even going to the safer worksites has a surcharge.

If you die, the company scolds you and brings you back to life deeper in their debt. At the end of a three day sprint, you drop down on a lightless ocean planet and turn in your salvage to a gigantic alien "boss" that will accidentally drag you through a mail slot much to small for you if you stand too close to the delivery slot when it is claiming your loot... or might just do so and eat you if you are rude about using the bell to get service.

If you performed at or above your productivity quota, you are rewarded, and your quota for the next three days is increased. If you do not meet quota you and your crew are jettisoned into the cold, black void of space.

It is good fun, even though you die at the drop of a hat, and the game is often extremely unfair to the players.

Do Evil Better

Kakos Industries Logo
©2014 Conrad Miszuk
One of my big guilty pleasures is the Podcast Kakos Industries by Conrad Miszuk. I have been a devoted listener for about seven years now, and never get tired of the series or Miszuk's other creative works like The Never Rad Miscellany

Kakos Industries is framed the shareholder announcements for a massive and very old corporation devoted to helping people "Do evil better." Including consulting, research and development, and marketing for horrible products and horrible people. In the background, there are a number of surreal adventure stories unfolding about wars between evil corporations, alien consciousnesses trying to manipulate humanity, mind-altering plagues, and war between Men and Monsters in the depths of the Earth. All presented by Kakos Industries sinister, but strangely sympathetic CEO, and a cast of bizarre employees, rivals, and clients.

I have listened to the first 100 episodes at least three times, although I am a bit behind on newer ones, which I intend to binge when life is a little more settled.

You can listen to the first episode here.

Small Jobs for Unimportant People

Cover for Automnijobs:
Small Jobs for Unimportant People

©202 Beth Crane

I have spoken at length about We Fix Space Junk in the past, and reviewed a role-playing game based on - Automnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People - it by WFSJ's its creator Beth Crane. But, as I enjoyed quite a bit, I I'm happy to keep sharing the awesome.

We Fix Space Junk is a dark comedy space opera podcast. It follows the adventures of an odd couple of women - a tough asteroid mining cyborg and a spoiled rich socialite - who have found themselves in crushing debt to unscrupulous interstellar corporation. 

The company, Automnicon, will do everything smuggling sabotage to war profiteering, but for the most part they sell sophisticated and high-tech consumer goods,. When one of their complicated pieces of technology needs repair, they send some of their indentured servants in broken down (and in some cases, haunted) starships to fix it, no matter how dangerous or simply mind-numbing it is.

The heroines are sent to planets where they are subject to all kinds of incredible perils, such as one where mind control is failing on a penal colony, and they're expected to repair the mind control beam as cannibals and lunatics riot around them. 

Or they are sent to repair a film projector on a planet where talking during a movie holds the penalty of death. Or one where creatures try to siphon your will to live by mind controlling you into investing in dodgy time shares.

Because medical treatment is added on to their debt, I must even perform surgery on themselves and build their own cybernetic prostheses. All with very little hope of getting out from under unless they are incredibly unscrupulous. Of course, the closer they are to paying off their debt, the more deadly the jobs they are sent on.

Is incredibly bleak setting is handled with tongue placed firmly in cheek and a lot of dry wit. And I am currently on my second listen through.

You can listen to the first episode here

Dining in the Void

Zebulon Podcasts Logo
©2018 Zebulon Podcasts

Dining in the void is a gothic Science Fiction horror story in which a handful of strangers are lured into a space station full of mysteries and deathtraps isolated from the rest of their galaxy. They are tormented and terrorized into confessing to terrible sins, while trying to figure out which one of them are collaborating with their sinister hosts.

It is a dark mix of Agatha Christie and Star Trek, I enjoy its grim tone, complicated setting and very elaborate interpersonal relations. As it is heavy on the mystery, I won't spoil too much of it. Suffice it to say the plot moves very slowly from something like And Then There Were None to a rich story about galaxy-spanning and eons-long

You can listen to the first episode here

Getting the Urge to Make Something New and Awful

As you can image, so much grim science fiction and black humor, especially with my favourite blend of The Sadist Show and Crapsack World tropes, has really given me the impulse to run something new. While PARANOIA is always a good bet to give me a dark chuckle, I want something a little different.

I started tinkering with a setting that would have the PCs working for a lovecraftian horror while being forced to collect both the necessary supplies they need to keep supplied with basics like food and air, and also collect pointles junk from the ruins of human civilization to earn their keep. I also have been thinking that a soild dose of Cassette Futurism and 80s aesthetics couldn't go too awry as well.

Naturally, I started looking for bleak science fiction role-playing games I couls start building on to create that experiene.

White Star, which I am currently running, and Traveller / Cepheus Engine are both tonally no quite right.  I might be able to tweak them, but the former is meant to feel heroic, and the latter is very rules heavy for something where I wanted to see a lot of PCs get maimed and injured, I want something with pretty fast chracter generation...

Mothership seemed a pretty obvious choice: it's dark, lethal, and can cover the sort of experience I am looking for. But its characters are also maybe a little too competent for what I was aiming dfor.

I have recently been very interested in checking out Death in Space, and so I grabbed a copy with some of my DTPG credit. I really like the game, but it might be a hard one to inject enough black humor into.

 Then I got to thinking that it might be ideal to put together something rules light and flavor heavy. The Mark of the Odd system was compelling for this.Or perhaps Cairn as I have experience writing Cairn-based games.

Death in Space Cover Art

I was still mulling this while setting up to do some solo play of Death in Space for review purposes when someone calle dmy attention to the fact that Chaosium has a challenge / contest on this month to create games based on the Basic Role-Playing system to help them create a body of ORC-license games built on their engine

Now, I have not played Basic Role-Playing before, but earlier this month I grabbed a digital copy of Dragonbame, the recent Fria Lagan update to the classic Swedish role-playing game Drakar och Demonar.It is based onf Basic Role-Playing but thoroughly simplified to use a d20 system. Chracter generation in Dragonbane is lightning fast, even when building a character with magical powers, and it plays pretty smoothly.

It seemed like great opportunity, and so I put Death in Space down for now, and started building a campaign world where both the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. secretly colonized space in the 1980s, but the colonies were cut off during the fall of the Soviet Union.

With no contact with the rest of humankind, and a series of wars and disasters, the Soviet and American colonists have fallen into six factions, including a corporation run by humans altered by alien parasites, a cult of humans worshipping ancient technology, colonies indebted to a loan company that controls them through crushing debt, an AI-controlled fleet of soviet ships that is an homage to PARANOIA, as well as a fleet of lingering hardline Soviet Communisits, and a hardass fleet of 80's-style religious right  anti-communist american supersoldiers.

It is a campaign world where most technology is barely up to snuff with what we had in the 90s, with one exception: in the twenty-teens every faction found a way to brng the dead back to life. Which has led to life being the cheapest it ever has been.

Nw, no matter which faction you belong to, you are currently in a race to plunder old abandoned habitats, ruined ships, and abandoned colonies for the resources necessary for your faction to be the first to start anew... even if it kills the factions young workforce. After all... they cna always be brought back.

I'm calling the project Scrap.

It is a vary pare-back version of Basic Role-Playing. I took a lot of clues from Dragonbane, like fusing spacial and critical successes, linking skills to ability scores to have an easier way to determine skill base chances and bonuses together. I've eliminated skill specializtion in favour of spreading out a few specializations as separate skills.

I am keeping fatigue and sanity rules, because panic and exhaustion are two things I want lots of in the setting.

I am hoping to have a pretty solid take on Scrap to share by the time the contest due date on March 31st comes around that I can share. In the meantme, I am learning a few things about building with much more sophisticated semi-open engines that I hope to share.

Expect updates and soem retrospectives on the task as I go.

1 comment: