What If You Were The First To Meet An Alien Species?
What if you were not ready at all? TERMINATION SHOCK is about being tossed head-first into first contact scenarios, encounters with baffling technology, and the desperate creativity of cosmic refugees.
In the future, a swath of blue-collar humanity is rescued from their toil on Mars by altruistic but disorganized aliens. Pulled away from the disinterest of post-singularity masterminds on Earth and murderous artificial intelligences lurking past the orbit of Saturn, these miners, mechanics and freighter pilots become humanity's de-facto ambassadors to a broad, strange, diverse universe.
TERMINATION SHOCK is the SF game I always wanted to play - one where you face the setting's surprises as actual surprises, not as plot twists in a book or season finales in a TV arc. You can walk into your first session ignorant, and that's an advantage. You, the player, face the setting's bizarre intricacies without preparation, just like your character.
It's a game with a totally new setting and brand new mechanics. The aliens are alien, not just humans with forehead makeup, and the tech that was at least inspired by real science.
I've been playing it for more than a year, as immortalized on a series of Soundcloud podcasts. You can hear them by clicking right here. The people who helped fund those podcasts got a sneak preview of the rules, and we've been editing them ever since.
They're finally ready.
For almost every action that's in doubt, you roll three dice and add the two highest together. This gets compared to a target number - high if you're trying something hard, moderate for ordinary difficulties, or else the two high dice of someone else's roll. Generally, the intensity of effect is based on the low die. It's that simple, at the core. At the same time there's more to it than that.
If you're familiar with my rules designs from Unknown Armies, Delta Green or REIGN, you know that I like to use every roll as efficiently as possible, pulling as much information as I can from every pitch of the dice. In addition to resolving just about every conflict (social, intellectual or physical) with the same roll and mechanics, the dice have been given flavor. So you don't just find out that you failed, and by how much, but also why. Did you miss something due to exhaustion? Was it distraction? Or were you so fired up you got careless and clumsy?
Similarly, when you succeed, it implies how you did it. Did you win the alien over by your effortless understanding, your force of personality, or mulishly stubborn persistence? With TERMINATION SHOCK, you know, and it's not merely cosmetic. Special abilities key in based on your lowest die. If you succeed without intense effort, you look casually, elegantly competent. If you succeed without harmony, you just monstered out your problem. (If you fail without harmony, you just monstered yourself into a problem.)
For the initial rollout, we're planning on going with a print-on-demand volume, color cover and your choice of color or black and white interior. The manuscript is about 42,000 words, which should wind up somewhere between 150 and 200 pages, depending on artwork and layout options. We've opted for a 6x9 inch format.
The PDF version is the same as the print version, only it's full color throughout. (Don't worry - our art director is taking every precaution to make sure the art looks good both colored and monochrome.)
The core book has an overview of the setting, core mechanics on how to attempt actions and the consequences for failure, along with fat bundles of exploits (which help you succeed better) and failsafes (which mitigate your defeats). There is a big beautiful section of high tech devices, both human and alien, and extensive GM assistance for building sessions that react to the players' will while still valuing the GM's preparation.
Once the main book's out, there's plenty in the pipeline. Extensive writeups on aliens, their cultures and biologies and special rules if you want to play a hardwired high-gravity predator or lighter-than-air philosophical gasbag? They're already written. More high-tech gadgets to throw at players who've already read the core book? Got them good to go. A set of separate rules for ship-on-ship violence, with assistance for making your crew's craft a home and a setting for drama, not just a collection of system boxes? Text is done, playtests completed. Or if you like pregenerated adventures, we can write 'action plans' - TERMINATION SHOCK's answer to a dungeon module, only shorter, more open, and based around a single session.
Oh, and if you want to hear more podcasts? We have thirty more sessions that just need to be edited and posted.
The podcast does a nice job gradually revealing the setting, but in broad strokes, the Sol system of the future is unjust and unfriendly, with rogue killer AIs infesting the deep edges of its orbit while transhumans at the core monopolize the best tech and the prime real estate. Squished uncomfortably between are colonists on Mars, asteroid belt miners, and the merchants who supply them.
That pinched margin is just about to get crushed when aliens swoop in on a rescue mission, trying to gather up as much unmodified humanity as they can before the expiration date. Rushed away into deep space and plagued by poor translation software, humankind is dumped in a cosmopolitan galaxy that doesn't hate them, but doesn't really care much either. We have to start over from zero in the midst of cultures we never expected, and that never expected us.
The breadth and confusion of the setting provides a lot of different options for play. Want to play something ultraviolent? Tool up with alien tech and go get revenge on the killbots of Sol, and maybe show those snobby exhumans a thing or two. Want to explore strange new worlds? There's a bunch, and they're always curious about new species with new cultures, either as entertainment, possible saviors, or exploitable resources. Want to make politics in a chaotic diaspora with limited resources and a severely disrupted economy? Stick around the station and try to corner the market on human goods like soap, coffee or news media.
It's a tough setting. It can roll with whatever you throw at it.
Risks and challenges
The main challenges to completing this in a timely fashion are production and distribution.
The writing part of production is at least 95% complete, so getting a manuscript ready to edit and lay out is the work of a week at most.
Illustrating and laying out the manuscript falls to Violet, and that's a lot of labor for one person, but I've worked with her before and I'm confident she can get it done well and in a timely fashion. However, if some disaster befalls and Violet's unable to complete it, I know artists and design experts who could be tapped to come in if needed.
As for production and delivery, we're going with a print-on-demand book from DriveThruRPG, who have a well-established system up and running. I've used them several times without any meaningful hassles. It costs more per unit and prices us out of doing a color interior, but it also relieves us of the burdens of printing, bulk shipping, receipt, warehousing, and fulfillment.
- (28 days)