Let's read: Eldritch Skies

Baeraad

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Eldritch Skies is a game by John Snead, which should be interesting, since he's also responsible for Blue Rose, one of my most played games ever and therefore also a game I have a major love-hate relationship with. My impression of him from that game (and online discussions of the same) is that he's a great idea man but suffers from a bit of a "I thought it was obvious that..." problem - by which I mean, he's not always the best judge of what he does and does not need to mention in the text. Let's see if that holds through for this game also.

Before I begin, I need to gripe that my hardcopy from drivethroughrpg claims on the back cover that this is a game for the Cinematic Unisystem, while the front proudly displays a Savage Worlds brand. This might be a problem with the printers rather than with the authors, though as we will see, the interior of the book will often suffer from the same confusion. :tongue: But more of that later.

The cover art is pretty impressive, showing an astronaut facing what is presumably meant to be a mi-go (a vaguely crustacean creature with bat wings and a potato-like head covered in short tentacles - you can say this for Lovecraft, when designing an alien species he didn't just stick a lumpy forehead on a human and call it a day...) before an alien landscape with cities half-sunken into the ground and what looks like a whale flying on dragonfly wings in the background. The astronaut is holding what looks half like a talisman and half like a high-tech instrument. Trippy, man.

Introduction
Eldritch Skies is "a roleplaying game of somewhat cinematic Lovecraftian SF," in which you've "got heroes defending the Earth and its off-world colonies from the monsters and foes of the Cthulhu Mythos." I think using the term "somewhat" in an elevator pitch is probably not the best idea, as it makes it sound too much like you're not actually sure what you want and should stop wasting other people's time until you've made up your mind, but other than that it's a fairly succinct description. It's Cthulhu in space, and we get to shoot him with a raygun. Right on.

There is a somewhat (hey, I'm not writing an elevator pitch!) meandering description of what a roleplaying game is, first explaining that you need to create a Hero to play as. Some examples of where to find inspiration are given, such as "Randolph Carter's great granddaughter," or one of the "overly curious FBI agents, reformed criminals, and newly recruited intelligence operatives" seen on TV. You can also make up something new, like "a brilliant and insatiably curious misfit that fights the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos with amazing computer skills and technosorcerous devices." (I admit that I have never seen a character like that, if only because most Mythos stories are not about fighting the Mythos but about dying horribly at the hands of the Mythos)

The Game Master runs the Guest Stars (neutral characters, such as "the run-away running right into the arms of an evil cult," "an administrative assistant searching for a way to blow the whistle on superiors who are making illegal deals with the mi-go for advanced weapons" or "the conspiracy nut looking for proof and respect") and Antagonists (evil characters, like "cultists, hyperspatial mutants, aliens, and other nasties") that the Heroes encounter. The Game Master also arbitrates all the rules.

Players get together to have game sessions of varying length, and the game is also broken down into Episodes which join together into Seasons, and this is all needlessly pretentious, but as I recall it's all inherited from Unisystem so I guess it was mandatory. Also "in roleplaying, no one gets to brag about being the winner. The flip side is that no one has to be the loser." An excellent attitude to be sure, but I know from experience that it takes more than just saying so to turn some people into proper team players! :tongue:

One-shots are also possible, so you could just play a single session to "locate and obtain a powerful artifact before an evil cult can obtain it or save an interstellar colony from being overrun with flying polyps." The examples are doing a decent job so far of hinting at what you're supposed to do, I'll say that much.

The section then loses several points by first patronisingly explaining what dice are, and then failing to mention anything about how this game is going to require a different sort of dice than the regular six-sided kind. Does Unisystem only uses d6s? Because in that cause this is something that should have been changed for the SW version, and if not, well, then it's pretty much inexplicable in how hard it fails. :tongue:

Still, we'll let bygones by begones and move on. The next bit defines Lovecraftian science fiction. Basically, it's meant to emulate the sort of stories Lovecraft wrote when he was feeling unusually mellow - you know, on those days when he wasn't fighting the certainty that the mackarels were plotting his demise. :tongue: Stories like The Shadow Out Of Time and The Whisperer In Darkness dealt with freaky tentacled monstrosities in a pretty sober way, on the assumption that they had comprehensible interests and were possible to reason with. This game is about viewing the entire Cthulhu Mythos through that lense.

I'm a little in two minds about this. On the one hand, in my experience taking a source of inspiration and removing something rather than adding something, no matter how little you like the thing removed, rarely results in improvement. And Snead seems to be prone to this. In Blue Rose, he set out to create a fantasy setting that was pristinely free of anything that was in any way, shape or form grimdark - and which turned out to be boring as hell, because he didn't add anything to replace the grimdark with! (I've run a number of BR campaigns, but the two most successful ones were set in Kern and Jarzon, which is to say, in the grimdarkest parts of the setting :tongue: ) Here, he wants to create a version of the Mythos that's pristinely free of hysterical xenophobia. Can that turn out any better?

On the other hand, as he points out himself, Lovecraft wasn't always hysterically xenophobic, so perhaps this is less about cutting something out than about emphasising one aspect over another? And I must admit that I really love aliens who are properly alien, with incomprehensible thought processes and inhuman perspectives, without necessarily being evil because of it. So let's give it a chance, shall we?

The section also makes it clear that in this game, humanity is not inherently doomed. It references The Shadow Out Of Time, in which the protagonist interacts with a number of human intellects from thousands of years into his future, thus implying that we're canonically not about to go extinct any time soon. On the other hand, we're not guaranteed to make it, either - the universe in this game is ultimately indifferent to our plight, so whether we spread across the stars and last for millions of years or die out tomorrow and leave nothing but ruins for some future race to pick over is all up to us. Fair enough, I guess.

Next, the book goes over the possible tones you can set for the game. You can go gritty, in which case you're almost back to Call of Cthulhu and keeping the monster from eating you for one more day is the absolute best you can hope for (examples: Alien, Battlestar Galactica). You can go pulpy, in which case you blow the monster up while making a witty remark (examples: Star Wars, Chronicles of Riddick). Or you can go with the "somewhat cinematic" tone that is the default for the game, in which case you've got a good chance of taking the monster down, but you'd better plan your attack carefully or it'll definitely take a chunk out of you first (examples: Stargate Atlantis, Babylon 5).

It also mentions that the game uses "the Cinematic Savage Worlds rules." The what now? I've never heard that term before. I swear, if someone just did a search-and-replace on "Unisystem," I am going to be upset. :tongue: The fact that the section also mentions "Drama Points" as a way of adjusting the tone does not bode well, either. (Savage World does have something similar, but it calls them "bennies," and they're not normally used to adjust the tone - in SW, you do that by adding optional rules instead)

Next, we get a rundown of the world of the game. It's the year 2030, in an alternate history where every story ever written by Lovecraft actually happened, especially The Shadow Over Innsmouth (which led to the US government learning about the deep ones), The Shadow Out Of Time (which involved an archeological excavation of a yithian city) and At The Mountains Of Madness (same, only with an elder one city). The upshot is that the public knows about aliens in a general sense, and the governments of the world know even more. Psychic powers are also acknowledged and you can make a living from having them, and using alien tech humanity has developed interstellar travel and started colonising other planets.

Cthulhu and similar nasties inhabit something called hyperspace, and are much weirder (and far less possible to co-exist with) than regular aliens. They tend to visit the material universe and munch on the psychic energy of us feeble fleshy types. You know how the dinosaurs suddenly went extinct and we had all those theories about why? Yeah, turns out that was just Cthulhu feeling peckish. On the other hand, if you can dodge the mad god-things, hyperspace is great for taking shortcuts through, which is why there is such a thing as interstellar travel these days.

Hyperspatial energies also drive you crazy (and in extreme cases turn you into a deformed mutant) if you get exposed to too much of them too quickly. This is the game's solution to the whole "things man was not meant to know" thing - Lovecraft's protagonists didn't go crazy because they knew too much, they went crazy because unbeknownst to them, the alien creepy-crawlies they ran into had showered them with magical radiation. I guess that works as a compromise - it wouldn't be much of a sci-fi game if knowing stuff automatically made you crazy, but it wouldn't be much of a Mythos game if no one ever went crazy.

It's possible to command hyperspatial energies with your mind to make all sorts of whacky things happen, if you have enough discipline and learn the right tricks. This is called "hyperspatial sorcery," but it's actually perfectly scientific, honest! As a (somewhat) safer and more reliable alternative, you can build machines that make the whacky things happen more reliably - hyperspace doesn't care if the electrical currents it responds to are generated by a biological brain or by electronic circuitry.

There is one particular level of hyperspace that people touch when they sleep, the Dream Realm. With training, you can go there intentionally. You should be careful, though, because ghouls and deep ones have dreams, too.

Finally, we get a rundown of the chapters in the book. Chapter one details the history of the world and the current political situation. It also presents the main good-guy organisation, the Office of Paranormal Security, or OPS. Okay, you guys realise that you're just one well-publicised screwup away from everyone starting to refer to you as "the Ooops," right? :tongue: Chapter two is chargen, including ready-made characters. The latter part is a FILTHY LIE, by the way, but I'm sure it was true in the original version of the book. Chapter three is called gear and includes "all the information [you] need to play or run Cinematic Savage Worlds and Eldritch Skies." Again, that's not actually true, like most SW books this one assumes that you also have the main SW rulebook - and again, since I'm pretty sure that there is no such thing as Cinematic Savage Worlds, I'm pretty sure that someone blithely assumed that the non-rules-chapters were pristinely system-agnostic and didn't bother to check to make sure. Also, I can't help it notice that the chapter called "gear" only contains gear rather than contain additional rules like the description claims, so I guess the title might also have been changed.

Sigh... anyway, chapter four is the rules for magic, hyperspatial sorcery and psychic powers and so forth. Chapter five expands on the first chapter by outlining the alien worlds and dimensions that humanity has colonised or discovered. Chapter six is the antagonist chapter, with stats for the various creepy-crawlies of the setting. Chapter seven, finally, is Game Master advice and story ideas.

Despite my growing concerns about the quality of the SW edition (which appears to be the only one currently on the market - I can find references to the Unisystem version, but other than one copy that is up for $165 (!) on amazon, no one seems to be selling it anymore), there's a number of interesting ideas here. We'll see what comes of them. To be continued.
 
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Chapter one: The Eldritch Past & the Mythos Present (part one)
In the beginning... life appeared through the boring old natural processes, actually. Things didn't pick up until 750 million years ago, when the elder ones cruised by, spotted a planet with native life, and decided to go mess around with it. As you do. They built a bunch of cities on Earth and genetically engineered all sorts of interesting life forms. Then, 265 million years ago, Cthulhu and his cthulhoids emerged from hyperspace, saw a planet full of biological life, and proceeded to snack upon the psychic energy of its fauna, driving much of it to extinction. Again, as you do.

The elder ones weren't happy with Cthulhu turning their carefully crafted gardening project into an all-you-can-eat buffe and made war upon the cthulhoids. After 20,000 years of fighting, both sides were sufficiently exhausted that they made peace, with the cthulhoids controlling the super-continent of Pangea and the elder ones the ocean and islands beyond it. Over the next 15 million years, the cthulhoids also invited an allied race referred to as the flying polyps to come stay. The flying polyps, in turn, engineered a race of semi-sentient, ambulatory mushrooms as a combined slave race and emergency food supply.

Meanwhile, the Great Race of Yith was looking for host bodies to transmit its intellects to before they were wiped out by some cataclysm, and the flying polyps' pets were perfectly suited. The yithians promptly took them over and, by allying with the elder ones, fought their way to freedom. Over the next 500 years, the flying polyps were all sealed beneath the earth. The elder ones and yithians then put their heads together and started working on a doodad called the Elder Weapon. The cthulhoids found out, panicked, and started an all-out war that lasted for another 250,000 years and wiped out 90% of all life on Earth before the Elder Weapon was finally completed and employed, imprisoning the cthulhoids in a distant region of hyperspace.

While the elder ones and yithians were resting up after all the fighting, the mi-go showed up and started bickering with them. They didn't actually want Earth, but they did want some minerals found there, so they settled into a combination of trading, raiding and scheming to turn the elder ones and yithians against each other. Either because of this or because they were just generally past its peak as a species, the elder ones gradually began to weaken, even losing their previous ability to travel through space. They began to withdraw into their cities, leaving most of their territory. They created a race of servants called the shoggoths to care for them, but those eventually turned on them and rendered them effectively extinct on Earth.

80 million years ago, the serpent people evolved from dinosaurs and started bickering with the yithians. This went on for another few million years, until the yithians sent their minds forward in time to avoid the great big meteor that crashed into the Earth. (okay, so I was wrong - it technically wasn't Cthulhu that wiped out the dinosaurs, though he was involved in two other drastic prehistoric die-offs) The remnants of the serpent people tried to capitalise on being the only remaining sentient race living on Earth, but that meteor had hit them pretty hard too, and they never achieved much. Their last attempt at building a world-spanning empire was 30,000 years ago, that time by using a certain species of highly evolved apes as slaves. The stupid things rose up against them and overthrew them, and that was pretty much it for the serpent people.

Yep, that's us finally entering the scene. After showing the serpent people the door, we spent 3,000 years having a little sword & sorcery period called the Thurian Age, but then the Ice Age came around and put an end to that. Once we thawed out, history went on pretty much as in the real world - Babylon, Egypt, Rome, the steam engine, World War One, yadi yadi yadda - until circa the 1920s.

There follows a timeline, which goes pretty much like what I just said, though it adds some details. For instance, it mentions that escaped human slaves from the serpent people's empire hid in deep caves and mutated into the ghouls, while a tribe of fishermen in the Pacific turned out to live too close to sunken R'lyeh, allowing Cthulhu to reach out and transform them into the deep ones. Also, at the end of the Thurian Age the inhabitants of a city in Africa managed to escape to and colonise the planet of Galatea I.

The timeline goes on from 1928 (discovery of the deep ones) to 2028 (Brazillian explorers discover the planet of Prodigio). Between the two is a modern history that gradually diverges from ours - it's mostly the same up to 1987, when the public at large first learned of the Mythos, and then it goes off the rails. But I think I'll go over the long version first and then come back and see if I missed something.

In the 20s and 30s, the Lovecraft canon obviously happened. Deep ones, yithian ruins, elder one ruins, you get the idea. The governments of the world either covered it up or downplayed its significance - for instance, the results of the Antarctic expedition in At The Mountains Of Madness were made public, but while stressing that while aliens had inhabited the Earth in ages past they were absolutely gone now and nothing to worry about, and while carefully not mentioning anything about shoggoths. The US government also hushed up the Roswell crash (which was actually a mi-go ore transport ship).

Some changes weren't alien in origin. For instance, someone eventually found the primitive mindreading apparatus that that dude from Beyond The Walls Of Sleep was messing around with, and both sides of the Cold War became very interested in the idea of reading minds. Evidence of psychic powers eventually seeped out, and more and more people began to study ways to learn and use them. However, the official position remained that psionics, while a thing that existed, was a curiosity of limited practical use. It no doubt helped that, as the chapter previously noted, psychic powers work best on people who have had some hyperspatial exposure beforehand.

After the Cold War ended, all sorts of information came to light and people realised that they'd been lied to for decades. Faith in national governments went into freefall, but at the same time, people were clamouring for someone to protect them from aliens that suddenly weren't extinct but very much real right here and now. Much of the vacuum was filled by the United Nations and its Office of Paranormal Security, who managed to escape blame for the coverup by claiming to have been silenced by the national governments. I'm not sure that's realistic, but all right then.

These days, psychic powers are accepted to be real and widely used. "Link-crowns" which allow a direct transmission of thought are used in trials, since it's hard (though not impossible, and thus they are not considered to provide conclusive evidence) to lie in psychic communication. They are even more used for entertainment, though, since it's possible for one person to record a complete sensory record of a period of time and then letting others experience it just as they did.

The chapter then jumps back to the 1960s to talk about the space race, and I think that I'm going to be very vexed with this before we're done. Let me check ahead real quick... yeah, the chapter jumps back and forth and prattles on about this and that all the way through. You know how I said John Snead isn't the best at knowing what information is important? He's also not great at presenting what information he does decide should be given in a coherent and concise way. :irritated:

But fine, the space race it is then. Apparently all those satellites and space shuttles that the USA and the USSR made such a big deal about were just a smoke screen - in the meantime, both sides were actually engaging in a much more promising avenue of research, namely opening portals through hyperspace with the power of math. There were expeditions to Mars using this technique, but they ended once a spell-casting mishap sent a group of astronauts off to parts unknown. Exploring the moon through rockets (albeit rockets designed partially by studying elder one technology) turned out to be safer, though at one point US and Russian sorcerers had to work together to bring a team of explorers back after their vessel was damaged (the official story became that they'd managed to find a portal in a yithian ruin on the lunar surface).

There's a step-by-step description of the development of hyperspatial engines. Is there actually any conceivable situation when I'll really need to know precisely how fast space ships could move in 1975? Because otherwise, this is a waste of pagecount. The first relevant part is the invention of interstellar spacecraft in 1994, thanks to something called the Gillman-Hawking drive. Though I suppose it's a bit relevant that the solar system was explored much earlier than in our world, and there is a nice tidbit about there being something living under the ice of Europa that made it very clear to the first explorers that humans weren't welcome there.

Early shielding was inadequate and led to cases of hyperspatian entities eating entire crews, or sometimes entire ships. Heh. Anyway, there's proper shields now, so space travel isn't all that dangerous anymore.

The Soviets eventually gave up on sorcerous portals and started working out how to build techno-sorcerous gateways.

"With the discovery of the so-called Dragonfly Drive in 1994"... hey, you said they were called Gillman-Hawking drives! Aw, screw it. Either way, martian and lunar colonies are pretty common these days, but the rest of the solar system doesn't have much beyond isolated research stations. Hmm, that's useful, actually. Stuff can happen on isolated research stations, and then someone has to be sent in to investigate why it has been out of contact since that last weird message of "iä iä ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu ftaghn gurglegurglesplat..."

Humanity has six extrasolar colonies at this time. All are on planets that have been declared safe for habitation. Four have no indigenous sentient life, and on the remaining two the native species is primitive and poses no threat (hang on a second, doesn't anyone have a problem with those colonies? Moving onto an uninhabited world is one thing, but if there's already sentient creatures on it, I'd expect a lot of people to feel that that made the world rightfully theirs. I mean, sure, it's a harsh universe and you've got to look out for number one, but if there are plenty of uninhabited worlds...). The uninhabited ones all have alien ruins on them, which is a major reason why they were chosen as well.

There's a bunch of dry details about what sort of people become colonists, what their level of comfort and technology is, and so on. This might actually come in handy, so I'll allow it, but it's not exactly riveting. The majority of them are Third World middle-classers - poor enough to want a better life, rich enough to afford the spaceship ride.

Next up is alien relations.
 
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Enjoying the thread immensely. I've often considered buying this on sale but never did. The less grimdark version of Cthulhutech your describing does make me reconsider my opinion of it.
 
Enjoying the thread immensely. I've often considered buying this on sale but never did. The less grimdark version of Cthulhutech your describing does make me reconsider my opinion of it.

It's definitely CthulhuTech's less skeevy cousin. :wink: And yeah, despite all my gripes about the production values - and there are many more to come! - I'm actually strongly considering running it sometime soon.

Chapter one: The Eldritch Past & the Mythos Present (part two)
Aliens, then. The public has known about aliens since the forties, from such sources as the excavation of "the ruins of the great race city of Pnakotus in Australia’s Great Sandy Desert." That tells me two things I didn't know: one, that the yithian city in The Shadow Out Of Time is called Pnakotus, and two, that the Australians decided to name a desert "the Great Sandy Desert," which is so damn Australian that I just can't even. :tongue:

Since the 80s, the public also knows about flying polyps, mi-go and deep ones. Flying polyps are really more of a hazard than anything else, something you might run into if you go spelunking in the wrong caves, but there are official diplomatic ties with the mi-go and the deep ones even if actual contact is sporadic: "visiting alien or ab-human dignitaries are very rare occurrences, but when treaty negotiation occur, the press is always in close attendance." Heh. I like that bit, for some reason - it really carries across the idea of how we're supposed to look at those species in this game, as something that's weird and mysterious but more interesting than actually scary. It also makes me wonder how a mi-go would deal with paparazzi.

Humanity gets along quite well with mi-go and deep ones for the simple reason that there's not much conflict of interest - the sort of environment favoured by each species (the murky depths of the ocean for the deep ones, the highest of mountain tops for the mi-go) is inhospitable to humans, and what humans consider prime real estate is inhospitable to the aliens, so everyone's happiest staying out of each other's sight. That's an interesting idea, actually. Usually in fiction, when different species make peace it's because they discover that they have a lot in common, but here we've made peace because we have so little in common that we have nothing to fight over.

Most people also have a largely unfounded sense of superiority and think that they're in one of those sci-fi stories where humanity bursts onto the galactic scene and quickly starts to dominate the action because we're just so gosh-darn industrious, so they aren't afraid of the mi-go because they're sure that we're a few decades away at most from surpassing them. They have a somewhat more justified sense of superiority to the deep ones, who genuinely lack most conventional technology (the fact that they have a decent amount of unconventional technology isn't widely known). There was even a push to extend humanitarian aid to the deep ones for a while, until the deep ones told the do-gooders where they could stick their charity.

The public does not know about the ghouls and the authorities would prefer to keep it that way. I suppose I can see why. "There are aliens in space" is one thing. Ditto "there are aliens in the sea" - we always knew that there were no end of creepy things living in the sea, what's one more? "There are aliens literally underneath your bed, and also, they have probably eaten your grandpa," well, that might cause some concern. :tongue: Nor, apparently, do they know about the yithians, presumably for the same reason ("you can be body-napped by a prehistoric mushroom at any time and there's nothing you can do to stop it").

Beyond Earth, ruins of alien civilisations have been found here and there, there are those things on Europa that we should probably leave alone, and we've also run into a space-faring race called the Yaddith.

Next up, we have a description of Earth in 2030. We start by being told a bunch of things we already know (we have space travel, we trade with some aliens, etc, etc), though there is also the revelation that "humans have begun augmenting themselves with advanced biotechnology." We also get a breakdown by decade of technological breakthroughs:

1940s: Nazis use hyperspatial weapons of some sort (a description of what they actually did would have been freaking nice! From what I remember of later parts of the book, they're supposed to be a weaponised version of the device from From Beyond. That is, it makes everyone in the area see into hyperspace, and as a side-effect also makes them visible to hyperspatial entities in return, thus causing said entities to come running to gobble them up), though they need to be set off by an operator who'll be caught in its effect, so they're effectively suicide bombers.
1950s: Psi-links (that is, electronic telepathy).
1970s: Electrical weapons.
1980s: Intersolar space flight and artificial hibernation.
1990s: Cures for most inherited conditions, including "Innsmouth Syndrome."
2000s: Better psi-links, a cure for cancer, bio-augmentations, regrowth of severed limbs and destroyed organs, self-driving cars.
2010s: Commercially viable bio-augmentations (and a resulting growing gap between those who can afford them and those who can not), flying cars.
2020: Affordable general-purpose 3D printers that can create just about anything from raw materials. Hyperspatial bio-augmentations (we are not told what those do yet; looking ahead, they mostly seem to replicate certain psionic powers, like telekineses or flight), courtesy of the mi-go, though those are quickly outlawed.

All right, so in this world you've got telepathy in much the same way we've got cell phones and televisions, there's a cure for very nearly anything that doesn't kill you outright, if you have money you have pretty no excuse not to have a perfect body as well, you have a flying car that drives itself, and you don't have to go shopping because you can manufacture just about anything you want in your living room with a few button presses. All of which is more true if you're born into a comfortable social position, admittedly, because if you're born poor you'll proably going to stay poor because pulling yourself up with your bootstraps is even less probable than usual now that the rich bastards can go out and buy themselves wings. :tongue: I kind of wish some more attention had been paid to that last part, actually, because there's good story material there - if anyone who can't afford bio-augmentations is basically screwed, then that makes them all the more vulnerable to skeevy cults who promise that their evil gods can grant them superpowers. And then you get precisely that sort of sinister blue-collar occultism that Lovecraft was so fond of. Oh well.

The greatest difference between the ES world and ours is psi-links. Most of the Internet runs on telepathy, and you can enter joined mindscapes to physically interact with people who might be half a world away. Entertainment, likewise, makes good use of the fact that you can enjoy the experience of eating the finest food by just psychically downloading it into your brain - all the taste with none of the calories. (and yes, since you dirty-minded bastards were definitely wondering, pornography is mentioned as a common application. Satisfied? :tongue: ) There are some people who have religious objections to psi-links, but for most people it's just a fact of life.

Automatisation has reached the point where having household robots that cook and clean for you is unremarkable (they look a bit like bundles of mechanical tentacles on wheels - sentient humanoid robots appear not to be a thing in this setting), and factory jobs have mostly though not entirely disappeared. Likewise, transportation relies on self-driving vehicles. Having personal servants is a great status symbol for the rich, but there's still a surplus of unskilled labour that no one is quite sure what to do with other than maybe send it off to the colonies and see if they can find some use for it. Again, that's the sort of thing that should be seized upon as a possible source of antagonists, but nothing is done with it. A pity... but of course there's nothing actually stopping a GM from using it unprompted.

Also, lest anyone get too excited about the flying cars, you aren't allowed to drive them over urban areas without special permission. Okay, I can see how that might be wise normally, but if they can drive themselves I'd think it actually be viable to let people get ferried around by them freely.

Next is a section on bio-augmentation, which swiftly does away with the possibilities I mentioned above by assuring us that only about 12% of Earth's population have even a single augmentation so far and the more progressive governments are considering handing the more basic ones out for free (e.g., if you splurge on enhanced immune system for all citizens, then you get citizens who rarely have to take out sick days but can work constantly to raise the good ol' GNP). So we explicitly don't have that Deus Ex rising-tension-between-augs-and-norms thing going, just a vague concern that it might happen at some possible point in the future.

Okay, John Snead, can we have a talk about this? I know you don't like grimdark dog-eat-dog worlds. But the thing is, if you have a world that's all happy and smiling and no one has any reason to feel poorly treated, then you have no justification for antagonists beyond "they're just evil, and do evil things because they're evil." And in many ways, having some people be Just Evil is actually more cynical than having a setting where most people would prefer to be nice but often feel like they have to put their own needs first because no one else has time to care about them. It's fine to want things to be realistic rather than grimdark, but realistic situations still tend to contain problems and conflicts and just generally not everything being near-perfect right from the start.

This bugs me, and it's going to continue bugging me throughout the book - the way John Snead just won't stop clutching for a security blanket whenever things threaten to get the least bit upsetting. Even the part about how humanity is not special, that it's no worse but also no better than other sentient species, that part that I really liked because it contained neither Lovecraftian handwringing about how feeble and doomed we are nor Heinleinian chest-thumping about how great and superior we are - even that part gets stretched later on, when Snead starts humming and squirming and going, "weeeeeell, perhaps we're just a little bit better and special, eheheheh..." Aaaarrrrgghhh. :angry:

Okay, okay, I'm all right, I'm all right, just had to get that out of my system... There are also flashier augmentations that aren't available to (or, when it comes right down to it, of much interest to) the wider public but which are very handy for soldiers and criminals and other people who live dangerously - augmentations that lets you see in the dark, breathe water, or stick to the wall like a gecko. There's also hyperspatial augmentations that the mi-go cooked up and offered to humanity in trade, but the UN is worried about possible side-effects and they are entirely outlawed. Shadier elements among the mi-go have been known to sell them to ditto elements among the humans, though, granting them the ability to fly, manipulate objects with their minds or fry electronic equipment with a snap of their fingers.

Psychics! Most people are cool with psychics, since psi-links effectively bestow artificial psychic powers so everyone's pretty much used to the idea of mind-to-mind contact. Also, it's commonly known that psychics can't read your mind without either touching you or looking deep into your eyes in a very conspicuous way (also, reading someone's mind without permission is a crime). Mindreading is used to verify testimonies in court, though it's understood to not be 100% reliable because some people can trick a psychic, especially if they have psychic powers of their own. It's also used in business deals to ensure good faith on both parts - again, it's not guaranteed, but it helps.

Sorcery! Everyone knows that sorcery exists these days, but the OPS works very hard to make sure no one actually knows how to do it. Most people believe that the only kind of sorcery that works is technosorcery, the kind that requires massive laboratories and advanced equipment and just generally can't be attempted by any idiot with a grudge. The truth is of course that while technosorcery is safer and more reliable, anyone with access to the wrong books can learn how to summon up hyperspatial entities and send them at their enemies. People who discover that fact are liable to be either recruited by the OPS (possible PC origin ahoy!) or have their memories of the event erased. If they're practising sorcerers themselves (and thus presumably have too many memories of sorcery for all of it to be scrubbed) but have broken no laws and do not want to be recruited, the OPS puts them on a watch list. Stamping out sorcery completely is probably impossible, there's too many of those Books of Eldritch Lore floating around, and the OPS finds it useful to know who to call when they need a spell cast. Registered sorcerers are grudgingly allowed to take an apprentice or two, but otherwise they are required to keep their mouths shut about what they can do.

People in the know can usually find underground sorcerers for hire, too. The more sensible sort of underground sorcerer will not agree to murder or mind control for fear of drawing the ire of the OPS, but magical surveillance of rivals or protection from some threat are things you can get hold of if you've got money and the right connections.

Next up is the United Nations, which is a lot more powerful than in our world since it's got an exclusive right to make binding treaties with alien races. They also run the OPS, whose official duty is uphold the Dangerous Technologies Treaty that regulates the use of hyperspatial technology. It's also been expanded to include all forms of weapons of mass destruction, even completely mundane ones. Not sure why the author saw fit to add that. I mean, you could certainly run a game where the PCs were investigating some rogue nation's illegal nuclear weapons program, but surely that's not what you look for in a Lovecraftian science fiction game? I dunno.

There's a bit about how the UN Security Council works that I'm not sure why it's even needed, hem hum...

Then we get a section on the OPS itself.

OPS has three primary missions:
1. Protect humanity from alien threats
2. Prevent alien technology or hyperspatial sorcery from being used to harm humanity.
3. Help humanity safely expand throughout the galaxy

Why is there a full stop at the end of the second bulletpoint but not the other two? (yeah, that's nitpicky, but I just noticed and now it bugs me)

OPS agents are authorised to investigate matters pertaining to its primary missions in all member nations of the UN. In some places they are required to be accompanied by representatives of local government or law enforcements while doing so, however. They can request the aid of local law enforcement officers in their mission, though that usually takes the form of evacuating civilians or otherwise enabling the OPS agents to do their job of actually dealing with the threat at hand. As a word of caution, the presence of the OPS at a scene is usually interpreted as a sure sign that tentacled abominations are about to turn up, so OPS agents should be discreet if possible so as to avoid causing panic.

Remaining Mythos secrets! The public does not know about the ghouls, partly because ghouls tend to kill people who find out about them. History buffs may know about cthulhoids in general terms, but only as a probably-extinct alien species rather than as the hyperspatial horrors they really are. As mentioned, most people also don't know too much about sorcery, and much of the information floating around out there is deliberate misinformation spread by the OPS. The OPS actively works to keep people in the dark about these things, especially since the more marinated in hyperspatial energies a person is, the more vulnerable they are to psychic control or influence by hyperspatial entities - right now, 90% of humanity has no hyperspatial exposure, and that's limiting the amount of mischief that the likes of Cthulhu can get up to, but if everyone started messing around with sorcery we'd draw attention that we absolutely can't afford right now. OPS agents make use of a device called a hypnoscope to erase the memories of people who have seen more than they should. How very Will Smith of you.

Next up is a rundown of the nations of the world.
 
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The section then loses several points by first patronisingly explaining what dice are, and then failing to mention anything about how this game is going to require a different sort of dice than the regular six-sided kind. Does Unisystem only uses d6s? Because in that cause this is something that should have been changed for the SW version, and if not, well, then it's pretty much inexplicable in how hard it fails. :tongue:

Cinematic Unisystem (which is the version that was used for the first version of ES) uses a D10. No dice pool.

Despite my growing concerns about the quality of the SW edition (which appears to be the only one currently on the market - I can find references to the Unisystem version, but other than one copy that is up for $165 (!) on amazon, no one seems to be selling it anymore), there's a number of interesting ideas here. We'll see what comes of them. To be continued.

Sounds like the SW version didn't get a proper editing pass, since some of the things you mention are Unisystem terms.

As for the CinematicUni version: From what I remember, they did a print run for the kickstarter, then had a PoD version via Drivethru. I doubt the print run was large, given it only brought in a little over 6100. Once the book got pulled from Drivethru, the copies that did exist were few in number, hence the ridiculous cost. Had Battlefield Press cleared it with Eden before they did it (they had a license to do a different game tied to Beyond Human. When that didn't come out, they went with this without checking to see if it was ok to do so, as their license didn't cover doing a sci-fi game), there might be two versions of this game out there. But they didn't, which is sad. I have the Unisystem version, and keep it safe along with my copies of Angel and my Buffy books :smile:
 
I also own the CineUni version, fortunately because I don't really like Savage Worlds much.

I don't remember exactly where I read it but I believe Jon Snead was thinking of doing a BRP or Mythras version or something along those lines. He also stated that he liked CineUni much better than Savage Worlds.

There's one supplement, Distant Vistas, which I didn't get and is also no longer availabel for CineUni.
 
I think I managed to snag one of the last Unisystem versions. I don't think I would have picked up the SW version.

I like this because it's the only game I've seen to treat the Cthulhu Mythos as science fiction rather than horror. Maybe Cosmic Science Fiction?

I like Unisystem, the Cthulhu Mythos, science fiction, and horror...so this game was tailor made for me.
 
I also own the CineUni version, fortunately because I don't really like Savage Worlds much.

I don't remember exactly where I read it but I believe Jon Snead was thinking of doing a BRP or Mythras version or something along those lines. He also stated that he liked CineUni much better than Savage Worlds.

There's one supplement, Distant Vistas, which I didn't get and is also no longer availabel for CineUni.

I was able to get Distant Vistas before the CineUni version got pulled. Glad the CineUni stuff is still in my Drivethru library. I haven't read it in awhile, bit iirc, it was more fluff than writeups. I don't know how different the SW version is though
 
Chapter one: The Eldritch Past & the Mythos Present (part three)
All right, this part is where John Snead actually tries to give me precisely what I was clamouring for in the last one. Will I still manage to find something to bitch about? Knowing me, chances are good. :tongue: But let's see.

The three biggest players on the global scene is China, the EU and the USA. China is wealthy but totalitarian. The government spies shamelessly on its citizens and OPS agents have to wear surveillance equipment while active in China so that they don't do anything the government doesn't like. It maintains a number of off-world colonies as a safety valve that disgruntled citizens can move to, since the colonies are pretty much allowed to run themselves as long as they pay their taxes. Convicted criminals are not allowed to move to the colonies, and that is used to keep troublesome elements in check (wouldn't it make more sense to ship convicted criminals off to the colonies so that they weren't your problem anymore? I mean, that's pretty much how the English did it...).

The EU (which is apparently treated like a single nation here... I'm not sure if that's just for simplicity, if that's supposed to be how it is in this fiction version of 2030, or if the author genuinely thought that that's how it is in real life...) has the highest living standard in the world but also the lowest birth rates. As a result, it's way behind in the colonisation race. Mass surveillance is practised there too, but anyone can view recordings of public places as long as they're okay with their request being logged.

The USA is still traumatised by all the stuff the government covered up during the Cold War, and trust for authority is at an all-time low. As such, public surveillance is outlawed, and there's a bunch of militia movements and suchlike who are very concerned about their precious bodily fluids. They sometimes get their hands on some dangerous sorcery or technology, and then you get servitors of the Other Gods rampaging through Wall Street. That's the sort of thing the OPS try to keep to a minimum, of course, though it's actually more concerned with big US corporations engaging in illegal research and making cladestine deals with the mi-go. Regardless of all such problems, the USA has still got a top-notch space program, though, with a bunch of colonies and more on the way.

Outside of the big three, well, Africa's still a mess, and dictators and warlords are liable to scramble for any advantage they can get, the DTT be damned. Brazil is doing pretty well for itself and has its own space program and colonies, but Peru suffers from both rebels who use sorcery and religious zealots who hate everything Mythos-related and have been known to blow up psi-link factories. India is divided between the rich urban parts and the poor rural parts, and it doesn't get along with Pakistan, but there doesn't seeem to be anything going on there that isn't going on there in real life, so I'm not sure why I'm even reading this section. Japan is doing good business in producing those household robots mentioned earlier, and has some off-world colonies that it sends its very best and brightest to, though it's implied that this in combination with a negative population growth is going to cause problems for it down the line (possible hidden plot hook whereby the Japanese government uses Mythos tech with dangerous side effects to mass-produce new citizens in tanks?).

Most Middle East countries have stomped heavily on most of the things that give the OPS trouble, but they also don't like the OPS meddling in its business so OPS agents have to be accompanied by local law enforcement at all times when they try to investigate what Mythos incidents do occur. Iran is the exception and remains heavily religious while also making good use of hyperspatial technology and has an off-world colony with a second one being planned.

In Russia, things have somehow gotten worse, because the only eternal truth about Russia is that somehow, things will get worse. The government is at once oppressive and deeply useless. Gangs and criminal organisations are a fact of life. Sometimes people bribe the government officials to protect them from the gangs, and sometimes people bribe the gangs to protect them from the government. Lunatics and religious extremists run rampant. All in all, the section suggests, if someone is going to carry out a ritual that awakens Great Cthulhu from his slumber or set off a bomb that teleports Earth's entire atmosphere into outer space, it's pretty much definitely going to happen in Russia.

The biggest trouble-spots on Earth, though, is North Korea and Pakistan. They explicitly refuse to cooperate with the OPS (the Russians at least pretend to cooperate, though standard operating procedure is to sweep Mythos events under the rug as quickly as possible and then assure the visiting OPS agents that it was just a false alarm, honest, so nice of you to drop by, see you later!) and make use of absolutely anything they think will give them an edge against South Korea and India, respectively. North Korea is a dictatorship still ruled by Kim Jong-Il, who's being kept alive by sinister occult means. Pakistan is more of a giant free-for-all, with a military dictatorship opposed by a bunch of feuding warlords.

Myanmar used to be a problem, and UN troops had to go in and stomp heavily on the military junta after it was caught sending Servitors of the Other Gods against its own citizens. The war was long and bloody and heavy use was made of sorcery. I don't know anything about Myanmar other than what I just learned from glancing at Wikipedia, but this seems to be meant to echo real-life events. Other than that, I'm not sure why it's included other than to show a worst-case scenario of sorts.

Next is a description of the sort of problems the OPS routinely deals with. First off is alien relations. Humanity has treaties with the mi-go and the deep ones, and the OPS is required to ensure that those are followed. For one thing, all trade, particularly of alien technology, has to go through the UN, so any backroom deals with aliens made by individual nations or other groups are illegal and need to be uncovered and stopped. Ghouls are a bit of an edge case, since some ghouls can get too aggressive and start killing enough people to get noticed, in which case the OPS is required to go in and kill them without alerting the public to their existence or getting so heavy-handed that the ghoul population at large feels provoked.

There are still flying polyps bound by ancient wards beneath the earth, and sometimes those wards decay and the damn thing swarm out. They're not a permanent problem, because they usually depart for space eventually, but they tend to want a light snack for the road before they go. The OPS is responsible for making sure they leave on an empty stomach if at all possible. Humans who have turned into deranged mutants by hyperspatial exposure may also need to be brought down, and then there's serpent people, who are rare but also crafty and can disguise themselves as human with illusions.

Finally, we're apparently at war with the moon beasts. The what now?

Secondly, Mythos cults. Hyperspatial entities can appear in people's dreams and either bribe or threaten them into becoming their worshipers. Sorcerers tend to run into such entities a lot, and make especially dangerous cult leaders if overcome. Most cults are composed of people who have been personally corrupted by the entity, though some manage to expand their membership through purely mundane persuasion, and those are usually the most long-lived and dangerous cults. Cult leaders "may no longer be fully human." Eeek.

"Cults" are not always religious. Various entities can make perfectly pragmatic bargains with humans, offering to teach them sorcerous secrets or drive their enemies mad. Aliens and abhumans can do the same, though their offered rewards are more prosaic - the mi-go might offer up high-tech goodies, while the ghouls and deep ones might simply offer financial rewards or offer to assassinate an enemy. While not particularly awe-inspiring, I'll admit that that's in line with the source material. The people of Innsmouth, for instance, essentially gave themselves over to the deep ones in return for better fishing and the occasional bit of gold - people sell their souls really cheaply in Lovecraft's works. In return, the Mythos entity may require the human ally to perform a ritual, hand over an ancient artifact or help cover up previous activity by the entity.

Deals with the Mythos rarely end well. Hyperspatial entities have a major god complex and don't think they owe anything to those inferior fleshy things once they've outlived their usefulness. Aliens and abhumans aren't quite so bad, but the ones who make underhanded deals with humans are already breaking the laws (or at least customs) of their own species - and if they're not going to play fair with their own kind, they're certainly not going to do so with you for a moment longer than necessary.

Speaking of which, aliens aren't any more happy about treaty-breakers than humans are, so OPS agents are expected to try to apprehend or at least identify the other side of an alien pact too if possible. Sometimes, they may be required to work alongside deep one or mi-go lawkeepers for this purpose.

Hyperspatial entities have goals that don't necessarily make sense from a human perspective. They often want rituals carried out, and such rituals rarely have any obvious effect - though there's the uncomfortable possibility that they might have altered something that we can't detect, or that each ritual makes a tiny adjustment that adds up over time. And sometimes the rituals do have an effect, like the one that caused the sleeping sickness of 1916 or the one that made 300 people in San Fransisco disappear into hyperspace in 1953. Either way, even failed rituals usually require human sacrifices and other illegal practices, so the OPS is tasked with keeping them from being carried out.

Cthulhu, of course, does have a known goal - he wants to get out from the hyperspatial prison the Elder Weapon sealed him in so he can rampage across the Earth once more. It may be that the rituals he commands his cultists to perform are all meant to chip away at the walls of his prison, so that he'll eventually get loose within a few thousand years (which isn't any amount of time from his perspective). While this is no immediate danger, it's still considered to be a very bad thing that we should try to prevent for the sake of the entire universe.

OPS response to cultists is to be tailored to how serious the cult activity is. If they have committed nothing worse than theft and property damage, it's fine to either wait and watch to try to figure out just what they're up to, or to use a hypnoscope to remove the cultist's memories and send them back to their mundane life. If there has been or is expected to be a murder, though, they need to be taken down as quickly as possible.

The OPS also has full jurisdiction on all off-world colonies, as well as being the organisation tasked with determining if a newly discovered world is suited for colonisation. Mythos cult is an especially serious danger on the colonies, since they're isolated communities with small populations and are constantly surrounded by possible sources of hyperspatial exposure. I must admit that I love the idea that instead of The Small New England Town With A Dark Secret, this game has The Small Space Colony With A Dark Secret. :grin: OPS agents also take informal responsibility for lawkeeping in the colonies - I guess kind of like US marshals in the old west?

Okay, so that's chapter one. I'll admit that this part does provide a decent amount of plot hooks if you keep your eyes open - there is still John Snead's annoying habit of minimising every threat, but at least he spends a fair emount of time providing possible threats, and the GM can make them expand out of control when necessary. You kind of have to add the sizzle yourself, but still, there's enough of a base that you can tap into other sources of inspiration and then just add the extra parts from the game. (corrupt corporate executives - who make deals with aliens! Redneck militia groups - who practice sorcery! Russian gangsters - with psychic powers! African warlords - who worship elder gods! Etc, etc) As settings go, this is at the very least servicable.

I'm still not sure whether to be flattered or insulted by the fact that Europe is portrayed as a place where everyone's happy and nothing ever happens, though. We're not that boring, damn it! :tongue: Couldn't we at least have had some Sicilian mafia types who were in bed with the deep ones or something?
 
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I'm still not sure whether to be flattered or insulted by the fact that Europe is portrayed as a place where everyone's happy and nothing ever happens, though.

Well he seems to have left without Australia any fluff at all so it could be worse.
 
Well he seems to have left without Australia any fluff at all so it could be worse.

Oh, like Australia needs more bizarre and deadly critters. :tongue:

Seriously, it's true, that's one whole continent gone unmentioned despite canonically having yithian ruins and surviving flying polyps on it. Weird.
 
I did have an idea for ES years ago where Deep Ones were paying off Coyotes with illegal tech to smuggle them to a planet that was mostly oceanic. It had a small colony, so when the players would show up, they'd discover the Deep Ones by accident, as the threat was from the water (but not by the Deep Ones)
 
I haven't read it but I'm not sure whether I like the sound of it or not. Like, I get that it's not intended to be horror, but still doesn't sound sufficiently wierd or mind-bendy for my tastes (Eclipse Phase is an example of mind-bendy to me).
I'd like a stronger push on a theme of humanity fully becoming a Mythos race, transformed by interacting with such things. As is, it sounds like humans and their motivations are in cyberpunk mode.

I guess that goes with the critique of Mr. Snead undercutting the threats. I generally like his stuff but, like with After The Vampire Wars, it's often several shades brighter than I'd like it to be.
 
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That's kind of the point of Eldritch Skies though. It leans more into the sci-fi elements of Lovecraft's work, and less into the horror. There's plenty of games that do the horror all ready. Most of those tend to gloss over the sci-fi elements in his work.

I'll also point out that the version being reviewed (Savage Worlds) doesn't really jive with what I remember from the CineUni version. Sounds like they did a real hack job on the SW version tbh
 
One question, are the dreamlands used as cyberspace? I mean the dreamlands are most likely the brightest thing Lovecraft ever wrote so I'm kinda wondering where John Snead incorporated it in the setting.
 
That's kind of the point of Eldritch Skies though. It leans more into the sci-fi elements of Lovecraft's work, and less into the horror. There's plenty of games that do the horror all ready. Most of those tend to gloss over the sci-fi elements in his work.
Yeah, I get that. I don't think I want the horror so much as the weird. And I want that weirdness to have rubbed off more on the humans. Stuff that might be horrifying to me, as a Player, but isn't to the characters in the setting.
 
One question, are the dreamlands used as cyberspace? I mean the dreamlands are most likely the brightest thing Lovecraft ever wrote so I'm kinda wondering where John Snead incorporated it in the setting.

Eh, they exist and you can go there if you have even a minimum of hyperspatial exposure, but there's not much point to them beyond recreation. They were a fad in the seventies, but now there's just a subculture of people who go there intentionally.

I'll also point out that the version being reviewed (Savage Worlds) doesn't really jive with what I remember from the CineUni version. Sounds like they did a real hack job on the SW version tbh

Hmm? The parts I've read so far should reasonably be identical. What parts are different in the CineUni version?

I haven't read it but I'm not sure whether I like the sound of it or not. Like, I get that it's not intended to be horror, but still doesn't sound sufficiently wierd or mind-bendy for my tastes (Eclipse Phase is an example of mind-bendy to me).
I'd like a stronger push on a theme of humanity fully becoming a Mythos race, transformed by interacting with such things. As is, it sounds like humans and their motivations are in cyberpunk mode.

I guess that goes with the critique of Mr. Snead undercutting the threats. I generally like his stuff but, like with After The Vampire Wars, it's often several shades brighter than I'd like it to be.

I'm afraid there is very little of that. There are some hints that if we really want to keep progressing as a species, eventually we're going to have to do some pretty crazy things to ourselves - but we're not close to there yet. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, doing things the human way works just fine.
 
Yeah, I get that. I don't think I want the horror so much as the weird. And I want that weirdness to have rubbed off more on the humans. Stuff that might be horrifying to me, as a Player, but isn't to the characters in the setting.

The weird is Hyperspatial energy and how it affects people. In the setting, it causes entire races to "transcend", but so far in humans, it tends to cause mutations and the like. Baeraad Baeraad hasn't mentioned Nyarlathotep yet in his read through, but he has a big hand in that
 
Hmm? The parts I've read so far should reasonably be identical. What parts are different in the CineUni version?

I'm going off memory here, so I could be wrong. I do remember that the drive used in space had two names, as it was listed as such in a timeline in the book. Some things I realize are likely in later chapters (like Nyarlathotep, as humans probably don't know much about him)
 
I'm going off memory here, so I could be wrong. I do remember that the drive used in space had two names, as it was listed as such in a timeline in the book. Some things I realize are likely in later chapters (like Nyarlathotep, as humans probably don't know much about him)

It still appears to be called either Dragonfly Drives or Gillman-Hawking Drives, I was just annoyed that it didn't mention in the meat of the text that those two were synonymous. And no, Nyarlathotep doesn't get mentioned until much later.

Chapter one: The Eldritch Past & the Mythos Present (addendum)
I forgot the rest of the timeline. All right, let's see... first there's the times of the original Lovecraft stories, and then in 1948 a note that the government has officially admitted that at least some of them happened. Also there's the Roswell crash, as mentioned before. In the late forties, the deep ones also make covert contact with the UN, and in the mid-fifties a yithian body-napper was discovered and negotiations with the Great Race also began. Oh, and the OPS was founded in 1960, if that may be of interest to anyone.

urbwar urbwar is quite right, the timeline does explicitly mention "the Gillman-Hawking hyperspatial drive, also known as the 'dragonfly drive.'" Well, it should still have been in the main text, grumble grumble grumble...

Moonbeasts started attacking human outposts in the new 10s and the UN officially declared war on them in 2021, which would matter more if we actually knew where they lived so we could attack them back. And this mention would make more sense if there was any description of what the hell moonbeasts even were, but never mind. :tongue:

That's about it. The rest is already in the main chapter. Except that we get our first reference to "transcendance," which is going to come up later.
 
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It still appears to be called either Dragonfly Drives or Gillman-Hawking Drives, I was just annoyed that it didn't mention in the meat of the text that those two were synonymous. And no, Nyarlathotep doesn't get mentioned until much later.

Chapter one: The Eldritch Past & the Mythos Present (addendum)
I forgot the rest of the timeline. All right, let's see... first there's the times of the original Lovecraft stories, and then in 1948 a note that the government has officially admitted that at least some of them happened. Also there's the Roswell crash, as mentioned before. In the late forties, the deep ones also make covert contact with the UN, and in the mid-fifties a yithian body-napper was discovered and negotiations with the Great Race also began. Oh, and the OPS was founded in 1960, if that may be of interest to anyone.

urbwar urbwar is quite right, the timeline does explicitly mention "the Gillman-Hawking hyperspatial drive, also known as the 'dragonfly drive.'" Well, it should still have been in the main text, grumble grumble grumble...

Moonbeasts started attacking human outposts in the new 10s and the UN officially declared war on them in 2021, which would matter more if we actually knew where they lived so we could attack them back. And this mention would make more sense if there was any description of what the hell moonbeasts even were, but never mind. :tongue:

That's about it. The rest is already in the main chapter. Except that we get our first reference to "transcendance," which is going to come up later.

I checked my copy before I went to work, and yeah, it's first mentioned in the timeline, but the first time they mention it as the Dragonfly drive, they don't point out that's another name for the Gilman-Hawking Drives.

IIRC, Moonbeasts are more detailed later on. What's strange to me is that Moonbeasts in the stories are from the Dreamlands version of the Moon, so them being in the regular universe kind of threw me for a loop. I wouldn't have called them Moonbeasts, since they obviously don't live on the Moon in the setting

Thinking of Hyperspatial mutations: The old movie Forbidden World seems like a good cheesy movie to steal material from
 
Chapter two: Civilians and Operatives
Time for some chargen! The chapter starts with a long-winded section that really boils down to: "make sure that the character is appropriate to the campaign." Which is good advice, especially in a game such as this one which is meant to enable a lot of different scenarios and playstyles. (you could make an argument that there are benefits to writing games for more focused playstyles so that everyone can just roll up a character while knowing more or less what they're going to get, but, well, apparently that's not what John Snead wanted to do here, and I do see the appeal in a rich and diverse setting that can contain different kinds of stories)

Some suggestions for characters include "an ex-cat burglar who is now an OPS infltration specialist, a hard-bitten strike team commando, an eccentric psychic, or a brilliant physicist who is also a skilled sorcerer." The section also repeats the point from the introduction that you can easily take a character from any sort of spy drama, monster hunter show or conspiracy thriller and adapt them to the game. It even allows that the occasional sitcom character might work, which I'm less sure of, but okay...

There is also the option of just have the GM create a bunch of characters and then let the players choose between them. Hmm, that's possible, I suppose.

Characters can be created as civilians (regular starting level characters), operatives (4 advances) or veterans (8 advances), depending on what level the campaign is going to take place on. Yeah, that's taken straight from Unisystem and not even trying to hide it. :tongue: Still, I guess it works. Anyway, OPS agents are going to be operatives, mostly. Civilians are for running more regular Call of Cthulhu style games where a bunch of nobodies stumble on something horrific. I would personally point out that in this setting, a bunch of nobodies who discovered a sinister cult could just call the OPS and have them deal with it, but I suppose you could solve that if you really had to - literature is full of amateur detectives who for some reason insist on not calling the cops.

Playable races are human, deep one hybrid or ghoul hybrid (pure deep ones and ghouls are too alien of mind to work as player characters, apparently). Those may either literally have a deep one or ghoul a few branches up the family tree, or they might have been exposed to enough hyperspatial energies to have been transformed to something equivalent. Both of them get bonuses to Strength and Vigour balanced out by penalties to Charisma and the fact that they don't really fit in anywhere and may have fanatical anti-Mythos enemies (the possibility of antagonists who believe that they are in a more conventional Cthulhu story where "anything Mythos-related = bad and in need of being killed with fire" isn't otherwise touched upon much, surprisingly). Deep one hybrids are also aquatic and can breed underwater, as you might expect, while ghoul hybrids have finely tuned predator senses and an anger management problem.

New edges and hindrances take up most of the chapter. The first one is Amnesia, which means that you're missing some time. I immediately suspect some OPS agents, those guys seem to be really trigger-happy with those hypnoscopes. :tongue: It can also be that you've just run into something so traumatising that you've repressed all memory of it the old-fashioned way. Other hindrances are less obviously tailored to the setting - there's things like Clown, Dependents, Depression, even Fear of Rejection (?). Best I can figure, these were in the original Unisystem rules and therefore they needed to be carried over. One that is setting-specific is the Hyperspatial Exposure hindrance, which means that you've got low to moderate levels of Mythos weirdness about you. Honestly, you might as well take it - you're going to end up getting some before long anyway! :tongue: Recurring Nightmares is another one that feels very appropriate.

Also, there's this one...

SECRET (MINOR OR MAJOR)
There exists a dangerous and hidden fact about your character. This could be a secret identity or a shady past. The more damaging the secret if it became known, the higher the level of the hindrance. For example, damage to your character’s reputation and livelihood or a threat to his well-being (he might be arrested or deported if the truth were known). Minor; life, limb, and lymph nodes Major. Former membership in a Cthulhu cult is likely a Minor secret, while current membership and secret allegiance to old squiddy would be worth at least a Major secret.

Emphasis mine. This really was done in a hurry, wasn't it? :tongue:

Allowed Arcane Backgrounds are Hyperspatial Sorcery, Psionics, Techno-Sorcery and Ritual Magic. The first three are really just the Magic, Psionics and Weird Science Arcane Backgrounds from the core SW rulebook, while the last draws on the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion that I don't actually own. If you take Psionics you have to start with the Psychic Sensitivity power, but otherwise you can pick anything from this book or the SW core. Devices built for Techno-Sorcery need to be larger and bulkier the more Power Points they use from the size of a pen to the size of a large suitcase. Hyperspatial Sorcery has the fun detail that modern sorcerers tend to carry small calculating devices that they input specific variables in, and then the device shows on screen the diagrams that the sorcerer needs to concentrate on to make the magic happen. Being a math geek never looked so cool! :shade: All Arcane Backgrounds come with a minimum level of hyperspatial exposure, so technically these edges pay for themselves by forcing you to take the Hyperspatial Exposure hindrance along with them, unless the GM declares that all characters are starting with a certain level of exposure without being compensated for it (like if they're space travelers, for instance).

New professional edges are Astronaut, Detective, Special Forces or Spy.

Next up is bio-augmentations, for when being a regular vanilla human just isn't going to cut it. They're divided into legal (that anyone can get), licensed (that PCs can probably get, being cool international agents and all) and hyperspatial (which you should stay clear of, because no one is sure that they won't transform you into a twisted human-mi-go hybrid at some point). The legal ones include sharper senses, higher resistance to toxins or extreme temperatures or the ability to hold your breath for longer.

Licensed ones seem to be a bit tricky, legally - it's against the law to give them to people, but not technically against the law to possess them. They may make people nervous if they know you have them, though, and if you use them to commit a crime the punishment will be more severe than otherwise. They include things like breathing underwater, giving electric shocks, suction cups on your hands that lets you climb walls, retractable claws, infrared sight and other stuff that regular Earth animals can do that normal humans can't.

Hyperspatial augmentations are ones that the mi-go have cooked up for human use, based on ones they use themselves. However, they're all still being carefully investigated for side effects, and they afflict anyone who has them installed with a bit of permanent hyperspatial exposure. This is the closest thing we're getting to the transhumanism that Simlasa Simlasa wants - if and when we start implanting hyperspatial tech in our bodies, we will officially not be human anymore. But for now, you might get to be this only if you're a PC and have been selected to field-test these augmentations, or if you're a sinister villain who's gotten hold of one illegally. Anyway, hyperspatial augmentations include flight, telekinesis, force fields and energy bursts that can damage other people or fry technology.

The chapter ends with some fairly bog-standard "remember that your character is more than a collection of numbers on a piece of paper" advice, and that's about it.

I should probably roll up a character just to try it. Stay tuned.
 
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Okay, let's try for a character. I think I'll make a geeky sorcerer, well-meaning and cheerful but just a bit weird even before you add in the hyperspatial influence. He is named Ernest Tibbs, and he's employed by the OPS to crunch numbers and put Elder Signs on things. As such, he's an Operative, or Seasoned as us heathen Savage Worlds players calls it.

Ernest's stats are Agility d4, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d4 and Vigour d4. He can calculate the square root of pi in his head, and he's got more guts than you'd think (you need those if you want to delve into eldritch secrets), but he's really uncoordinated and out of shape.

As far as skills go, he's got Fighting d4, Healing d6, Knowledge (math) d6, Knowledge (occult) d8, Repair d6, Shooting d4 and Spellcasting d10. Obviously, magic and the principles it relies on are is his specialty, but he's also reasonably good with technology and knows his way around a first aid kit. He didn't particularly want to learn self-defense or how to shoot, but it was part of basic training for OPS agents.

As for hindrances, as a sorcerer needs to take Hyperspatial Exposure (Major), making him start with 2 levels of hyperspatial exposures. He also has Bad Eyes (Minor) - sure, you can buy yourself a brand new pair of eyes in this day and age, but Ernest has never gotten around to it so instead he wears a pair of very thick and unattractive glasses. Finally, he's got Quirk (Minor) - he's got an annoying, high-pitched laugh that he keeps giving off at odd times, usually in situations where nothing is even remotely funny.

As far as edges go, first and foremost he of course needs Arcane Background (Hyperspatial Sorcery). He gets three spells to start with, so I turn to the magic chapter and...

... AAAUUUUUUGGGHHHH! What is this shit? WHAT IS THIS SHIT?! The garbled presentation! The unhelpful descriptions! The constant references to rules that don't exist in this edition! Jesus jumping Christ on a sacred pogo stick, I'm losing SAN points just from looking at this, and THIS GAME DOESN'T EVEN USE THOSE! :weep:

Okay, okay, I'm fine, I'm fine, just let me sort this thing here... and make sense of that thing there... and beat the whole sorry mess with a sledgehammer a few times until it resembles a self-respecting roleplaying game...

Right! I think Ernest needs to start with Elder Sign (which keeps lesser hyperspatial entities at bay), Open Gateway (which can reopen a previously existing but expired portal) and Voorish Sign (which allows you to see hyperspatial energy - or look into the nearby layers of hyperspace, if you're feeling really suicidal). That gives him the tools to seek out knowledge in relative (minimal) safety and also make himself useful to OPS operations. For his second edge, I'll take the Dho Nha Formula spell, so he can also scry things from a distance... or in other dimensions, again if he's feeling reckless. Finally, he gets a bonus edge for being human, and I think I'll spend that one on an augmentation. At some point, Ernest got sick of his allergies and splurged on the Biofilter augmentation, giving him an enhanced resistance to all forms of poison and disease.

I should properly buy some equipment next, but since the OPS supplies its agents with standardised equipment packs for each type of mission, I don't think it's strictly necessary. All Ernest really needs is a personal computer with a few encyclopedias' worth of reference material on, and that's part of every standard kit in the form of a psi-link. Assuming that he's a regular investigating agent, he'll be carrying:

Knife (damage Str+d4+1, weight 1)
Pistol (range 12/24/48, damage 2d6+1, weight 4, clip 6)
Zapper pistol (range 12/24/48, damage 1d10, weight 4, target must make a Vigour roll or pass out, targets who succeed at Vigour roll gets -2 comulative to all rolls)
Covert armor (armour +3, weight 8; looks like an innocent blazer)
Bug detector (detects nearby radio transmissions)
Psi-link Camera Jewelry (a combination cell phone and personal computer that is operated through telepathy, plus it enhances your senses)
Fiber optic pen (a seemingly innocent pen containing fiber optics that function as a camera, a flashlight or high-quality lockpick)
Gecko pads (allows wall-climbing)
Hypnoscope (erases memories, for when you need to inform people that What You Think You Saw, You Did Not See)
Sniffer (handy device for identifying substances and tracking people by their scent)
Surveillance drone (tiny insect-like robot that can be sent to spy on people)
Video bug (a tiny camera and microphone that can be hidden and set to either transmit what goes on around it or record it for later retrieval)

Next we spend raises. I guess I'd better give Ernest a Vigour boost so he doesn't die quite so easily - maybe his superiors put an exercise bike in his lab and told him to use it. I also take the Sending spell (lets you send a message to anyone or anything you can find an item connected to - all the better to crank call Cthulhu!) and the Power Points edge, just in case. For my final advance, which is also the only Seasoned one, I'll take the Sign of Koth spell, to banish hyperspatial entities.

Thus, we get:

Name: Ernest Tibbs

Race: Human

Experience Points: 20 (Seasoned)

Attributes:
Agility d4
Smarts d10
Spirit d8
Strength d4
Vigour d6

Charisma: +0
Pace: 6
Parry: 4
Toughness: 5 (8 with armour)
Power Points: 15

Skills:
Fighting d4
Healing d6
Knowledge (math) d6
Knowledge (occult) d8
Repair d6
Shooting d4
Spellcasting d10

Hindrances:
Bad Eyes (minor)
Hyperspatial Exposure (major)
Quirk (minor)

Edges:
Arcane Background (Hyperspatial Sorcery)
Biofilter
New Power x 3
Power Points

Powers:
Dho Nha Formula
Elder Sign
Open Gateway
Sending
Sign of Koth
Voorish Sign

Gear:
Knife
Pistol
Zapper pistol
Covert armor
Bug detector
Psi-link Camera Jewelry
Fiber optic pen
Gecko pads
Hypnoscope
Sniffer
Surveillance drone
Video bug
 
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Chapter three: Gear
The obligatory gear chapter. I'm not much of a gearhead, really - I tend to figure that if a character's equipment is more interesting than the character itself, something has gone wrong somewhere. I'm a filthy hippie at heart - materialism's just not my bag, man!

Still, while the game bends over backwards to accomodate different playstyles, the closest thing it has to a default playstyle seems to be secret agent stuff, and you can't have secret agent stuff without cool gadgets. So sayeth Ian Flemming. So I'll try to grin and bear it while I dive in.

Firstly, weapons. Most of them are the electric weaponry that was mentioned in passing in the first chapter. It's non-lethal but threatens an instant knock-out with every hit. It comes in the form of tasers to be used in melee and guns ranging in size from vehicle-mounted cannons to the quirkily named "zapper" handgun. Do I see a bit of John Snead's hatred of all things grimdark in that he's trying very hard to make non-lethal fights the norm? We wouldn't want to actually harm the deranged homicidal cultists or anything... :tongue: Still, I guess it makes sense for lawkeeping purposes, and it allows PCs to be as trigger-happy as they want without leaving a trail of civilian casualties behind. In the same vein, there's also stats for tranquiliser dart guns.

There's also the hyperspatial disruptor, which seems to be the ace up the OPS's sleeve when dealing with hyperspatial nasties. It insta-kills any such creature it hits if it can die and banishes it for 1d6+3 hours if it can't. The drawback is it's got very short range, but on the plus side it "affects a cone 5 meters across." Okay, so it's a cone template weapon? SW has special rules for those, you know. Anyway, it's does 5d10 Heavy damage to anything non-hyperspatial it hits, and it has no ammo restrictions (ammo isn't listed for any weapon, actually), so aside from the range issue it's really pretty much completely superior. Cost is an issue, though - it's got the price of "MIL," which is SW shorthand for "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." You'll either get issued one or you'll have to make do with your trusty zapper, is what I'm saying.

Silencers and laser sights are dutifully mentioned as possible add-ons. Also of note is the covert armour, which looks like regular clothes but has a decent armour bonus.

Next is a list of commonly available items. Anyone can have those, so they're less cool agent equipment and more facts of life to take into account when setting up scenarios in the world of ES. Dead heads are small devices that make you immune to psychic powers from most sources (though there are creatures out there whose psychic powers are strong enough to overload a dead head). They explicitly do not protect you from sorcery or the consequences of hyperspatial exposure. Gill breathers extract oxygen from water, essentially working as a lighter and more efficient version of a scuba-diver's oxygen tank. You can stay under water for 30 hours using one. Hibernation cocktails can be used to place people in suspended animation. It's not used for space travel anymore since ships have gotten fast enough that it's unnecessary, but it's still used in medicine - the first thing an ambulance crew does when faced with a mortally injured patient is to put him in hibernation for the drive to the hospital, for instance. That's a pretty cool detail.

Psi-links are a combination of cell phones and personal computers, small enough to be worn on a chain around your neck. The interface is telepathic, so you give them commands with your thoughts and any communication is beamed directly into your mind. If for some inexplicable reason you don't want to give the virus-filled Internet direct access to your brain, you can also make do with a touch screen and a pair of sunglasses that show the results right in front of your eyes, but honestly, what are you, some sort of square? :tongue: There's also a version with sensitive cameras and microphones that pick up sights and sounds around you and enhance them for you, essentially giving you superhuman sight and hearing.

(as an aside, the book describes the psi-link as functioning as "a cell phone, a digital camera, PDA, portable computer, GPS device, a media player, a game consoles, a television, and a wireless internet terminal." Er, yeah... so, it functions like a cell phone and a portable computer, then. How long ago was this written? 2012? Remind me, how cool were cell phones in 2012? I mean, I know how cool mine was, which is "not very cool at all," but that's because I hate cell phones with a fiery passion and always buys the least cool one I can get away with!)

Also listed is... superconducting batteries. Which are better than regular batteries, I guess? Apparently they make electric cars viable. Er, yay?

Next is actual spy gadgets, used by criminals and secret agents. Bug detectors detect bugs for you if you pass a Knowledge (crime) roll. Chameleon jumpsuits can change their colour and pattern, either to a set standard or in response to the environment. You get +1 to Stealth if you just pick out the best pattern for your current environment, or +3 if you set the suit to respond to the environment and move slowly enough to allow it to react. Cool. Fiber-optic pens are pens with fiber-optic in them. You can extend the fiber-optic and slide it under a door or into a locked drawer, after which it can take pictures of what's inside. It also functions as flashlight, and can be used as a very good lockpick that gives you +2 to Lockpicking. Never leave home without it.

Gecko pads lets you climb on walls and ceilings. Excuse me while I go compare it to the wallwalker augmentation... Okay, the augmentation is better, since it lets you move at your full Pace while gecko pads just lets you move at 2 yards per turn. Good, otherwise it'd be kind of silly to spend an advance at something you can just as easily buy.

A grappling gun gives you a handy way to scale tall buildings if you succeed at a Shooting roll. Sounds inferior to the gecko pads, frankly, though I guess there might be cases such as when you want to get over a sheer drop and such. Hypnoscopes get mentioned, though with a note that they're only really efficient for making people forget things they aren't likely to get reminded of - if you make someone forget that they survived a ghoul attack, it'll stick as long as they never see a ghoul again, but if you make them forget about being kidnapped and experimented on by rogue mi-go scientists the conditioning will break the next time the mi-go get mentioned on the news. So it's really only useful for making sure already-hidden things stay hidden.

Plasma cutters can be used to cut through just about anything that is willing to stand still long enough (and they make pretty decent hand-to-hand weapons - 1d10 damage isn't to be sneezed at, especially if you get to add Str to it). Rappelling rigs are used to climb down from heights. Sniffers are handy pocket-sized material identifiers and scent-based trackers. Surveillance drones and video bugs are both spy cameras / recorders, the former disguised as a flying insect that can be remote controlled and the second meant to be placed somewhere out of sight.

Next is a few items that are standard in space, like space suits (which hardens to maintain pressure when you're in vacuum, but loosens for ease of movement when you're inside an atmosphere), atmospheric sensors and life-support packs. Armoured space suits for battling across the face of Mars are also included.

The chapter ends with four lists of standard OPS equipment that will be issued to agent PCs depending on whether they are on Earth or in space, and whether they are supposed to be investigating or fighting. The two strike team lists both include a hyperspatial disruptor, though it specifies that that's one per team, not one per agent.

A decent enough chapter, I suppose. Like I said, I don't much care for gear, but all the pieces are at least moderately cool and I like the standarised lists. They actually do a lot to suggest how OPS teams are meant to operate - bugging suspects (heh) is apparently a thing they're supposed to do on a fairly regular basis, for example.

Next is the magic chapter... you know, the one that almost gave me a nervous breakdown before. Pray for my sinful soul, folks. :tongue:
 
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Chapter four: Arcane secrets (part one)
Here we are. The magic chapter. Excuse me while I draw the Elder Sign on everything in sight to protect my feeble human mind from what's to come...

We start out with hyperspatial exposure, of which every character has a level from 0 to 5. Most people are at 0. Level 1-3 are increasing levels of nightmares and visions and just general weirdness. Level 4 means you're essentially crazy, and also, any offspring you sire or bear while at this level is going to inherit some odd traits (the deep ones and ghouls are the result of multiple generations living on this level). Level 5 means that you've transformed into a deranged mutant who is no longer suitable as a PC. Every source of hyperspatial exposure (essentially, anything that makes you lose SAN points in Call of Cthulhu) also has a level, and if you interact with one that has a higher level than you, you have to make a Spirit roll and achieve as many successes and raises as the difference in level. Fail, and you go up a level. Levels 2-4 decrease over time if you manage to stay clear of further contamination, but level 1 and 5 are permanent - meaning that once you get any amount of exposure, you'll never be quite normal again, and if you get hit with too much exposure too quickly, you really will lose your humanity forever.

All fair enough. It strikes a pretty good balance of still making the Mythos dangerous and creepy while at the same time not making it quite as unavoidably destructive as in most stories.

And then we have hyperspatial sorcery...

If an intruder disrupts a ritual by overturning idols, injuring or killing participants, or simply shoving people around, then the ritual automatically fails and if the roll to cast it results in one or more raises, then the sorcerer must roll on the Spell Failure Table.

Interrupting a spell can be devastatingly dangerous to the sorcerer and everyone nearby. Doing so causes a roll on the Sorcery Backlash table.

There is a table right above. It is not say whether it is the Spell Failure Table or the Sorcery Backlash table. Or are those supposed to be the same thing? What the hell?

By the way, just to make sure I wasn't confused because I was missing some information, I splurged on the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion and looked up ritual magic. Which is apparently just regular magic, but you need to have both hands free to use it and you can only move half your Pace in a turn when you cast a spell, in return for which it doesn't leave you Shaken unless you roll a critical failure (that is, snake eyes rather than just rolling a 1 on your skill die). There's really nothing in there to explain what follows.

Sorcery can benefit from having assistants as per the regular team work rules, fine, fine...

Then we get this:

Normally, a sorcerer cannot cast a ritual if they lack the necessary levels of Spellcasting. However, it is possible for a sorcerer to cast a ritual with a level dice step higher than they normally could. A sorcerer with D8 Spellcasting could cast a spell that requires D10 Spellcasting, but not a spell that requires D12 Spellcasting using one of these methods.

Nowhere does it say what the necessary level of Spellcasting is for any given ritual or generally for rituals. But if you want to cast a ritual whose non-existent Spellcasting level if higher than yours, you can do it by performing a sacrifice or draining an eldritch artifact.

There are two very diferent methods of performing hyperspatial sorcery, either performing “rituals” or creating hyperspatial devices. The first method is known as ritual sorcery, while the second is referred to as technosorcery

The chargen chapter lists three methods, actually. But I guess we could squint a little and assume that the modern, math-based approach and the older, chant-and-wave approach are both considered "rituals." Fine, then. Go on.

The section then goes on to list three types of ritual sorcery (it has nothing further to say about technosorcery) - physical rituals, meditative sorcery and scientific sorcery. Physical rituals are regular ritual magic. Scientific sorcery is the one with the math and charts, so yeah, apparently we're counting that one here. Meditative sorcery is... I don't know. It seems to be just closing your eyes and concentrating really hard. Is that supposed to be a reference to psychic powers? Except so far, those have always been treated separately to sorcery, so... what?

Casting a spell causes hyperspatial exposure, with a level determined by how many Power Points you spent on it. Fine, fine...

A note on spell levels: Some spells have two levels listed, in all cases this means that there are two versions of the spell, a lower and a higher level one. Learning only the lower level version of the spell does not allow the user to cast the higher level version, but learning the higher level version of a spell allows the sorcerer to also cast the lower level version.

NO. THAT'S A LIE. None of these spells have listed levels.

Also, the sorcerer must possess suffient levels of the Sorcery Quality to cast the desired level version of the spell.

Yeah, that's not a thing that exists in Savage Worlds. I'm guessing that the Unisystem's "Sorcery" Quality is the one that you can raise by sacrifice and artifacts? Jesus, did no one bother to check this even once?

Then we have the spell list. Oh waily waily waily, THEN WE HAVE THE SPELL LIST! :weep:

First off, I'm pretty sure that a number of these spells are actually supposed to be psychic powers. I deduce that from the fact that they keep making references to "the psychic" and telling you to "make a Psionics roll." Also, those are the ones that don't have a suggested form for a technosorcery version (which is itself a nice touch, by all means). But does that stop them from being bundled in with the sorcery spells? Does it bugger. I even think that one particular spell (Clairvoyance or the Dho Nha Formula) is a psychic ability and a sorcerous spell slapped together under one heading just because they're a bit similar!

Also:

The following spells that are known to humanity. Alien beings and a few cults that are in contact with hyperspatial beings know additional spells. However, these are the only spells that OPS operatives and other Heroes can start play with.

Okay, then what was that part in the chargen chapter about how all powers from the SW core were available as psychic abilities? Which I'm not even exactly sure I like, because a lot of SW powers don't fit the mood of this game very well, but it'd be nice to have a consistent word on it at least... Or should I understand that psychic powers are unlimited but these are the only sorcerous spells that exist?

Also, seriously? These are the only spells that exist outside of what the GM fiats in? Considering that there's only about 20 of them, that's sort of weaksauce, especially since the setting chapter went on about hyperspatial technology this and hyperspatial technology that while rarely specifying just what it did. Well, according to this it can only really do a few things, and not all of them are even that impressive. For instance, apparently all of those "hyperspatial weapons" that everyone is so upset about just summon Servitors of the Other Gods (either directly or by making people in the area visible to them). I guess that's not completely stupid, because in the real world we're very upset about "nuclear weapons" even though they also only do one thing, namely cause a really big explosion. :tongue: But still, nothing that drives people insane and makes them turn on each other? Nothing that makes their flesh slouch off their bones and skitter away across the floor? Nothing, even, that summons some deadly critter that's not a Servitor of the Other Gods? It's one thing when the descriptions in the book are so bare-bones that I have to use my own imagination. But this part is actively forbidding me from using my own imagination.

I think I need to stop there before I tackle the actual spell list. This chapter is killing me!
 
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There is a table right above. It is not say whether it is the Spell Failure Table or the Sorcery Backlash table. Or are those supposed to be the same thing? What the hell?

There is a Spell Failure Table in the Unisystem version, but no Sorcery Backlash table. Skimming the book, there is no mention of a backlash table. IIRC, in CineUni (or at least Buffy), there was one if a spell fails, but not one here. Sounds like they really mucked things up on that chapter when they converted it

The Unisystem version only has 14 spells, so looks like they added a few. I think they limited it more because they wanted stuff that would fit more into the whole sci-fi aspect, which many spells might not. I don't really agree with that, but it is what it is. Shouldn't be hard to ignore and add more spells though. Plenty of them in CoC books to steal from after all :smile:
 
Chapter four: Arcane secrets (part two)
Nnnnnnnggggghhhhh LET'S DO THIS! :angry:

I'll start with the ones I'm pretty sure (based on the above criteria) are sorcery spells, then go over the ones I think are psychic abilities. Avoidance makes a person or place hard to notice - the subject appears unremarkable and uninteresting unless it somehow calls attention to itself. So basically it's a Someone Else's Problem field. When placed on a person it lasts for as long as the person remains conscious; when placed on a location, it's effectively permanent.

All of which is fair enough, until we get this:

This spell is specifically designed to affect the perceptions of individuals with little or no Hyperspatial Exposure. It affects everyone with who fails to achieve a raise on a Spirit roll, the individual’s Level of Hyperspatial Exposure is added to their total. As a result, characters with who have Hyperspatial Exposure of Level 2 or higher are almost never affected by this spell.

...

...

... a raise, in Savage Worlds, means rolling 4 higher than the target number, which is usually 4. If you're an average person, with Spirit d6, and have 2 levels of Hyperspatial Exposure, you'd roll 1d6+2 and try to achieve 8 or higher. That gives you a roughly 83% chance of failing and thus being affected by the spell. I don't call that "almost never."

What I suspect the book means is that you need to succeed at a Spirit roll to be unaffected by the spell. With 2 levels of Hyperspatial Exposure, that would mean you'd have to roll a 1 to fail. Even with a d4, the lowest possible die, you'd only have a 25% chance of failure, and it would only drop further with higher Spirit dice and higher levels of Hyperspatial Exposure. So yeah, then you'd "almost never" be affected.

This wouldn't bug me on its own, but it keeps happening. The fluff is at least passable, but the crunch positively oozes with They Just Didn't Care-ness. :irritated: I suppose it might be the result of having to translate it in a hurry because they had to pull the original version. I'm not sure if that's how it happened, but it's the only semi-charitable take on it I can think of.

Then we have Clairvoyance or the Dho Nha Formula (that's the actual title). This is the one that I think is two different things mushed together - it goes from describing unvoluntary psychic flashes of distant events that are in some way significant to you, while talking about "the psychic" and "Psionics," to describing how "the sorcerer" can intentionally view any place he's had described to him. Can sorcerers also get GM-determined visions? Can psychics also scry into hyperspace? It's not exactly clear. I could really use the original version here, because I suspect it's a lot more comprehensible.

A caution is given that while you can view distant regions of hyperspace, those regions contain Great Old Ones - and not only does just seeing one of those give you hyperspatial exposure, but when you see them, they can see you. Okay, that's at least somewhat cool and ominous.

(... I now picture the distant regions of hyperspace having a label on them saying, "WARNING: MAY CONTAIN GREAT OLD ONES.")

Compulsion forces a hapless victim to perform some action, and to think it was their own idea besides. Even if you break the spell later, the victim might continue obeying the compulsion as long as it doesn't go against their basic personality. It's highly illegal, needless to say, and even OPS agents would have to present an extremely compelling reason for having used it.

The Elder Sign prevents hyperspatial entities from approaching. This includes the mi-go, since they've all got hyperspatial augmentations, but does not include the Great Old Ones because they're too badass.

Gateway opens a portal to, well, anywhere you want and that you have some sort of connection to. It's only accurate to within 500 yards, though, so you can't use it for breaking and entering. If you want to be creepy (but also practical) you can choose to make the portal a "transformational gateway" which ensures that any living creature that travels to it will be able to survive the environmental conditions of its destination. That is to say, if you walk through a transformational gateway to the surface of Mars, you will emerge as something that can survive on the surface of Mars. Yes, you may begin screaming inside your head now. :grin:

Hyperspatial Mutation is as horrific as it is simple. It simply pumps a target full of hyperspatial energy, raising their Hyperspatial Exposure to any level you want. Yes, including level 5. Okay, this would actually make a really wonderfully horrible hyperdimensional weapon.

Invisibility is a normally simple spell that's really pretty dire in the ES universe. It works by partly shifting the target into hyperspace, subjecting it to a level 4 hyperspatial exposure. The OPS forbids its agents to use it, because it prefers said agents to not turn into raving lunatics.

Open Gateway reopens a portal that was created with Gateway but which has since closed. It's a Novice spell while Gateway is a Seasoned spell, so it's a sort of poor man's version thereof. The technosorcery variant can bend the rules by building two different devices as a single unit. They can then be used to open portals to each other's location but nowhere else.

Protective Warding protects an eclosed space from spells, psychic powers and hyperspatial entities. This one actually has two different versions, one for 2 Power Points and one for 3, so I guess it used to be one of those that had two different spell levels.

Sending lets you mentally contact anyone you have some sort of connection to. This explicitly includes any sort of hyperspatial horror like Cthulhu. Yeah, I'm not saying it's a good idea or anything, only that you can do it if you're ready to swallow a whole lot of hyperspatial exposure.

The Sign of Koth is your basic anti-magic, it breaks other spells and effects. There are some details about how it specifically works against other spells in this chapter, which is helpful.

Summon Great Old One... oh, take a wild guess what it does. :tongue: Each Great Old One requires a different spell to summon. Cthulhu can only be summoned for a few minutes since he's imprisoned by the Elder Weapon, though I suspect that that's likely to be a few minutes too many regardless. Summoning Nyarlathotep causes him to possess the nearest convenient person. Oh, and "failing to cast this spell correctly always results in the sorcerer’s hideous death."

Summon Servitor summons a Servitor of the Other Gods, which is apparently one of those weird blob things from From Beyond and forces it to obey you for a few moments. That's handy, because they're fast, strong, invincible (as in, can only be harmed by hyperspatial disruptors and suchlike) and just generally a pain in the ass of anyone you send them at. If you fail the spell, a Servitor appears, but you don't control it. As for how much of a problem that is, well, see above.

The Voorish Sign is your basic "see magic" spell, though in ES that's a bit more dire than elsewhere. See, you can use it to perceive the nearby levels of hyperspace, and that means that everything that's hanging around on those levels can see you. You can be more cautious and just use it to perceive hyperspatial energies in the material world, though. The original Tillinghast viewer (again, from From Beyond) was a technosorcery version that spread its full effects to everyone in a large area, and the Nazis either got hold of it or reinvented it during World War Two. To operate a viewer correctly you need to make an Intelligence + Engineering roll, and this is the sound of my face hitting the desk.

Finally, Reverse Mutation is a very difficult but benevolent spell that drains the Hyperspatial Exposure from someone, though it has no effect on levels 5 or 1, as per above. And no, I don't know why it's listed last when all the others are in alphabetic order, either.

That's 15, to my count. urbwar urbwar, could you check how that selection aligns with the 14 spells in the Unisystem version that you mentioned? Also, how do they handle psychic abilities there? Because here's the entries that are listed in among the spells that I think were originally meant to be handled separately:

Clairvoyance, as noted before, seems to be a psychic version of the Dho Nha Formula.

Emotional Influence lets you temporarily (15 minutes or so) make someone feel an emotion of your choice. It doesn't seem to be illegal, but it's generally considered a scary power and people who have it are not to be trusted.

Insight is more innocent and just lets you check someone's aura to find out "her nature, feelings, desires, fears, and whether she is insane, possessed, mentally controlled, or an alien being who merely looks human." It also lets you track someone by a psychic trail that everyone leaves behind, and which lasts for a couple of hours.

Mind Probe is mindreading, pretty much. Touch someone or look into their eyes and you can find out the answer to any simple question about them.

Psychic Link is an odd one, because it doesn't seem like an ability per se - it means you are permanently mentally bonded to another person and you can communicate telepathically with them. I suspect the reason for that can be found in the passage that goes, "when a player chooses the Psychic Link Quality..." Yeah. It wasn't originally meant to be handled as a spell but as one of those extra advantages you can buy in Unisystem. See, to me, that suggests that it should rightly have been an edge in SW, then.

Psychic Visions lets you see glimpses of the future when the GM so determines.

Psychic Sensitivity is the power all psychics must have. It's pretty hefty. Firstly, it lets you sense strong emotions in any target (or even more subtle ones, with a raise). Secondly, you can communicate telepathically with any other psychic within 100 meters, or any psychic you know well regardless of distance (and this being a sci-fi game, "any distance" could be pretty darn far).

References to "Charisma-based skills." DIE. :angry: Yes, yes, I know, you can just substitute "Persuasion" here, since that's basically the only social skill in SW, but hell knows what we should do with the parts about penalties to the same. A -1 penalty is a much bigger deal in SW than in CU, you know.

When communicating telepathically, you don't need a common language since you can send images and impressions instead. Most aliens and abhumans are considered to be psychics for the purposes of this ability. You can also communicate with non-psychics within your line of sight, but if they have no Hyperspatial Exposure, you're limited to extremely simple concepts like "danger" or "left." This, by the way, seems to be the only reflection in the crunch of the claim that psychic abilities don't work so well on normal people and that's why it took so long for them to be acknowledged as being real and important. Most notably, you'd think that being able to pluck information out of someone's mind at will with Mind Probe would have worked just fine to prove the existence of psychics even if you couldn't actually project your voice into their head.

Anyway, you can also communicate with non-psychics at any distance if you know them well and you've spoken to them that way before, but that requires a long moment of concentration.

Psychometry lets you touch an object and learn its history. It can happen either at the GM's prompting or intentionally. A success tells you the highlights of the item's history, a raise tells you anything that isn't actively hidden with magic. Or anything that is "totally plot-destroying," apparently. Er, did the book just say that a raise will give you absolutely any information you want except the most important stuff? It did, didn't it? Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh! :irritated:

Okay, okay, so maybe I am taking that harder than I normally would because I'm so annoyed in general right now. So sue me. :tongue:

So in conclusion, what did I think of this chapter? I hated it. Hated it. Hated it, hated it, HATED it. Hated every ramshackle, error-filled paragraph of it. Haaaaaaaaateeeed iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. :angry: Yes, there are a few cool bits, and you could definitely work with this once you went over it with a fine comb and a copy of the SW core and actually turned it into a decent adaptation. But I'm deeply annoyed that I should have to.
 
The CineUni version has the following spells: Avoidance Ward, Sending, Voorish Sign, Elder Sign. Hyperspatial Mutation, Open Gateway, Protective Warding, Invisibility, Sign of Koth, Summon Servitor of the Other Gods, Compulsion, Gateway, and Reverse Mutation. Each description includes a sample technosorcery device that emulates the spell. So looks like they copied it all over. But again, hack job conversion of it. It's kind of sad how awfully error-ridden this version is. I suspect the flavor text is likely the same, but I don't recall it bothering me overly much (I tend to chuck out stuff that doesn't suit how I want to run things anyway).

Of course, people who own both that I've seen post online about ES stated the CineUni version was better. I've only played SW once, and it was ok, but I found it a bit fiddly. I keep hearing it's better than Unisystem, but my one experience didn't convince me that was true.

Your read through makes me glad I didn't support this version. Given they only did this and the one supplement in pdf, it didn't seem to go over well with the SW community anyway
 
The CineUni version has the following spells: Avoidance Ward, Sending, Voorish Sign, Elder Sign. Hyperspatial Mutation, Open Gateway, Protective Warding, Invisibility, Sign of Koth, Summon Servitor of the Other Gods, Compulsion, Gateway, and Reverse Mutation. Each description includes a sample technosorcery device that emulates the spell. So looks like they copied it all over. But again, hack job conversion of it. It's kind of sad how awfully error-ridden this version is. I suspect the flavor text is likely the same, but I don't recall it bothering me overly much (I tend to chuck out stuff that doesn't suit how I want to run things anyway).

Of course, people who own both that I've seen post online about ES stated the CineUni version was better. I've only played SW once, and it was ok, but I found it a bit fiddly. I keep hearing it's better than Unisystem, but my one experience didn't convince me that was true.

Your read through makes me glad I didn't support this version. Given they only did this and the one supplement in pdf, it didn't seem to go over well with the SW community anyway

Ah, I was right, then. I would hazard a guess that the psychic powers are handled as Qualities in CineUni.

And yeah, I don't see this game appealing to SW fans (of which I am one) at all. SW isn't just a set of rules, it's a design philosophy that can best be described as, "maximum playability for minimum effort." A proper SW book is written in such a way that you can skim the most important stuff, grab the most salient bits and slap together a game out of it in an afternoon. This book sweats over every last detail and seems to be absolutely determined to never overstate the case. (compare the introduction's meek claim of being "somewhat cinematic" to SW's tagline of "Fast! Furious! Fun!" and you'll see what I mean :tongue: )

I actually bought the official SW Mythos sourcebook, Realms of Cthulhu, just to see how it would normally be done. Let's just say that if I ever do run an ES game, I'll be consulting that one a lot...

Anyway.

Chapter five: The Realms of the Mythos (part one)
Now, this chapter I actually really like. It's also pretty long, so settle in, folks, this will take a while.

First off, there is some fairly dry statistics on how many dragonfly ships exist, who they belong to, all that stuff. Also, it looks like I misspoke earlier - most colonists are transported in hibernation. I somehow managed to read "almost all" as "almost none," or something. Weird. Oh well. Also, people with some level of Hyperspatial Exposure who sees a dragonfly ship in flight can see four long wings of energy propelling it. Oh, like a dragonfly. I get it. Cool.

Then we get to the meat of the chapter, which is the many alien worlds you can visit. First off, the moon. Luna is mostly a backwater. There are people living there, but there's nothing to really draw in colonists. The mi-go and the yithians both had bases there back in the day, but they abandoned them long ago, and the ruins are pretty much picked clean at this point.

Mars is sort of half-terraformed - the atmosphere isn't breathable, but there's air pressure and moderate temperatures, so if you wear an air mask you can walk around outside. Some primitive life forms that remain from the last time Mars was habitable have woken up, so there's a bit of native flora these days. Mars used to have sentient life on it, but then the Martians tried set up a hyperspatial shield around the planet to ward off asteroids. The shield malfunctioned and teleported away half the atmosphere and caused the rest to be gradually disbursed by the solar wind. The martian civilisation collapsed, and while the martian species survived for another million years before dying out, it was only as primitives struggling to survive in deep canyons where there was still some air. Yaiks. Okay, while this has limited value for actual play, it works really well as an example of what could happen to the human race.

Europa has sentient life living in the saltwater sea beneath its ice layer. Said sentient life have made it clear that it does not wish to be disturbed. Occasionally it communicates psychically with passing spacefarers to make cryptic remarks.

Outside the solar system, there's a surprising number of worlds with Earth-compatible life, because the elder ones were prone to taking samples off of naturally life-bearing worlds and seeding other planets with them, and Earth was one such world. Since the prime of the elder ones was several hundred million years ago, the life on seeded planets have gone off in strange and unexpected directions, but they still show their origin in their basic makeup - so you might get worlds with headless nine-legged reptiles with eyes on their knuckles, but those critters will at least be protein-based and might even be edible to humans (and vice versa, of course...).

Many more worlds either developed or were seeded with alien life. Those are a lot less hospitable - even the soil needs to be sterilised before anything Earth-based will grow in it. The best-case scenario is that the local flora and fauna can be digested by humans in a pinch, but it'll only contain calories, not nutrients. So you might survive for a few weeks if you're marooned on an alien world, but eventually you'll die of scurvy if you're not rescued.

About three percent of worlds with life develop sentient life. However, a civilisation rarely lasts for more than a few thousand years before it either destroys itself or transcends (there's that word again), and either way leaves only its ruins behind. Humanity has run into a few worlds with primitive alien societies, and a handful of spacefaring species like "the moonbeasts and the yaddithi" (and the mi-go, surely. And I'm not sure whether to count the yithians, considering that they're currently extinct but aren't going to stay that way...), but for the most parts the universe is eerily empty. Heh. I like it.

Advanced societies typically learn of hyperspatial technology during its atomic age, or sometimes even sooner. Then they either mess up and go extinct (hello, martians!), or they learn to be really, really careful with the stuff. Some ban it entirely. Others, like the elder ones and yithians, make use of it for a few specific purposes but stick to boring old regular tech for everything else. And then there are those who go... weird. The mi-go implant hyperspatial tech in their bodies so that they can interact with hyperspace directly. The flying polyps have half-migrated into hyperspace, and the Great Old Ones are believed to have been regular material creatures before transcending the material world to exist entirely in hyperspace. The mi-go want to go the same way, though "so far without success" (uhm, duh? If they had been successful, they wouldn't still be hanging around in the material world!), and the flying polyps tried and failed.

Then there's this weird bit where the chapter seems to clear its throat and start over. I don't know if the first part is supposed to be a summary, or if it's the common knowledge and what follows is the full truth, or what. As I've mentioned before, John Snead isn't the best at presenting information in an accessible way.

A species, once it advances to a certain point, faces four possible fates: extinction, transcendence, stasis or partial transcendence. Extinction is the most obvious one. Species fall to alien invasion, natural disaster, internal war or, most notably, messing around with hyperspatial technology and making one mistake too many. Most species who do not go extinct instead transcend, disappearing into hyperspace and never being heard from again. It is possible that the Other Gods are the collective identities of transcended civilisations.

A few manage to avoid exctinction but still remain unwilling or unable to transcend, and instead reach a point where they can no longer make new scientific discoveries - not because there is no more knowledge to find, but because there is no more knowledge to find that their brains can process. Different species are wired in different ways, so for example, a yithian might explain some scientific fact to a mi-go until it was blue in whatever it is yithians have instead of faces, and the mi-go would still just go the fungi-crab equivalent of "er, whut?" And vice versa, not because one species is smarter than the other, but because some concepts that one species is physically capable of understanding are literally inconceivable to another.

This is a really neat idea, and fits well with the vision of a universe that isn't hostile but which is vast, uncaring and profoundly weird. Aliens are incomprehensible, not because they understand how things "really" work, but because they can wrap their heads around a different subset of universal laws than we can.

Anyway, if a species that has run up against the limits of its cognitive ability still wants to improve itself, it does have one option - relying on alien artifacts and alien theories. The yithian might not be able to explain to the mi-go why some piece of technology works, but it can say, "you press THIS button and then THAT button, and that makes it work. Yes, I know it makes no sense to you, but it will work. Just trust me, okay?" This is, needless to say, extremely risky, but it's why both the yithians and the mi-go are very interested in elder one artifacts - they've both reached the limits of what they can do, but the elder ones had different limits from both and so offer a chance for them to advance further.

Non-transcending species tend to not change much, partly because their technology remains the same but also because they can usually make themselves very individually long-lived. You don't change much when the same people are in charge for millions of years. Again, see the elder ones, the mi-go and the yithians - though the yithians still manage to shake things up from time to time by emigrating their minds to a new host species.

Some species might like to transcend but can't figure out how. There is a theory that Nyarlathotep needs to take a personal interest in a species for it to be able to transcend on its own. The yaddithi have never been visited by him, and appear to be incapable of transcending without help from other species.

Partial transcendence, finally, is when the transcendence process either fails or is intentionally left half-finished. The result is creatures like the flying polyps, who exist mostly in the material universe but are bound to hyperspace, or Great Old Ones like Cthulhu, who is almost entirely hyperspatial but still needs to feed off of the psychic energy of corporeal beings to remain active. Corporeal species, unless they try to worship the half-transcended beings in the hopes of being spared, tend to regard them as a blight to be warded off and sealed away. Great Old Ones are almost impossible to kill - at most, they go dormant until conditions become more favourable. ("that is not death that can eternally lie," etc, etc) Some of them, like the cthulhoids, try to build corporeal empires for themselves full of downtrodden slaves to feed on. Others, like Hastur, feed in subtler ways and may not be immediately recognisable as sentient beings at all.

Okay, while the presentation could use some work, this is all really good. I like how messy and uncertain it all seems, with different species transcending, or failing to transcend, or refusing to transcend, or only partly transcending. The universe in ES does not offer any straight paths, and certainly does not offer any guarantees of a happy ending.

Next up is Earth's main extrasolar colonies.
 
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Chapter 5 seems much more the sort of ideas I'd be seeking, weirder and less comfortable. I'm not sure how much of it would be of direct use in-game but it seems like good background info to seep in and flavour events.
 
Ah, I was right, then. I would hazard a guess that the psychic powers are handled as Qualities in CineUni.

Powers in Unisystem are designed like Qualities, but are their own thing. Funny enough when we were playtesting the Unisystem version of Conspiracy X (the regular version of Unisystem), John Snead wanted them to change Psychic powers more into actual qualities, which would have made it incompatible with the other games (since they all use the same system for psionics). I even pointed that out to him. i don't think he was happy they didn't go his way (which would not have made sense)

And yeah, I don't see this game appealing to SW fans (of which I am one) at all. SW isn't just a set of rules, it's a design philosophy that can best be described as, "maximum playability for minimum effort." A proper SW book is written in such a way that you can skim the most important stuff, grab the most salient bits and slap together a game out of it in an afternoon. This book sweats over every last detail and seems to be absolutely determined to never overstate the case. (compare the introductions meek claim of being "somewhat cinematic" to SW's tagline of "Fast! Furious! Fun!" and you'll see what I mean :tongue: )

I actually bought the official SW Mythos sourcebook, Realms of Cthulhu, just to see how it would normally be done. Let's just say that if I ever do run an ES game, I'll be consulting that one a lot...

I bought the Explorer Edition, and have Realms, Necessary Evil, the Super Power Companion and one of the Totems of the Dead books. I like how Realms was set up as a toolkit. I find those more useful, cause you can port stuff into other games. Honestly, the CineUni version as written can be pick up and play as is. It's easy on the GM because only players roll when opposing npcs in anything (combat, etc), unless the GM wants to roll. I like to, because it adds more randomness to it.
 
I haven't compared your summary of Chapter 5 to the CineUni, but it seems the same based on memory. That was one thing I liked about the setting (ie races transcend, so all you find is ruins). Same with how each races progresses differently, and can't always comprehend some of the tech other races make.
 
Chapter five: The Realms of the Mythos (part two)
Colonised worlds, then.

Bree's Landing is a pretty nondescript world for the most parts, probably best used as a sort of "standard" colony world. It's got more oceans and lower gravity than Earth, and most species are either aquatic or airborne or both - in one notable case, you have "air sharks" that are born in the water but later in their life cycle migrate up to land as predators that fly using skin-flap wings. Okay, that's a genuinely terrifying image. There's also domesticated flying beasts called wyverns that look a bit like giant bats and can be ridden by humans. Heh. I can imagine investigators being sent to look into something that's happened at a wyvern ranch out in the countryside... Bree's Landing also has sentient life in the form of four-legged, two-armed creatures nicknamed "Spiders" and who have a primitive but recognisable society. They only live on one continent, which has been declared off-limits to human habitation.

Canyon is a desert world where life survives only solely in deep canyons after some disaster in the past ripped away most of the atmosphere. Oh, come on, you copied that straight off of the entry on Mars! :tongue: Anyway, the rivers flowing through the canyons flood in the spring, causing some trouble for inhabitants. The main type of animal is called derms, warm-blooded vertebrates with bony shells. Some variants of derms can store air in the shell and can therefore survive on the surface for limited amounts of time, for instance to migrate from one canyon to another. The planet has a lot of colonies, all of them in the canyons - the only settlements on the surface are mining camps or research stations. Apparently the fact that you can build a colony in one canyon and completely ignore all the colonies in other canyons is a selling point. I guess if good fences make good neighbours, then impassable natural barriers make awesome ones? :tongue:

A bunch of mi-go smugglers have set up shop on the surface of Canyon (which they find a lot more hospitable than humans do), and trade illegally in artifacts and biological samples. There is also a Hastur infection brewing, spread from certain artifacts left behind by the planet's previous inhabitants. Speaking of which, those inhabitants were not wiped out in an internal war like archeologists currently think, but in a war against a Great Old One who wanted to conquer the planet. Okay, that would be a lot more interesting if you also told me who the Great Old One was and that it still had designs on the place, but whatever...

Emerald is an ocean world colonised by Russia and Japan which has limited land-living life - there is no such thing as trees, and animal life is mostly insects and small reptiles. The oceans are brimming with invertebrates, though, including "raft-jellies" that float just beneath the surface and are large enough to host miniature echo-systems of their own. Some of them are being used as vacation resorts. Heh, I like it. Some islands hold ruins from an octopus-like species called the decs that is believed extinct. In point of fact, most of the decs actually transcended, and descendents of the ones that chose to stay have genetically engineered themselves to become huge psychic krakens that now live in Emerald's oceans and pass their time with very advanced and very inhuman philosophy and theoretical science. They don't use technology anymore, because they no longer need it, and they are in contact with other alien species like the Europans. They haven't deigned to notice the human colonists yet, and would not be inherently opposed to them occupying the land if they had, but they would respond violently to threats to their own safety.

Firefly has a single huge continent overgrow by jungles so deep that the ground is cast in perpetual twilight lit by bioluminescence. Ooooh, nice imagery there. All colonies have been built on a single high plateau that rise above the jungle. Unbeknownst to the colonists, there are in fact only a few dozen individual organisms on Firefly, each one consisting of a hive mind controlling a huge expanse of jungle and every plant and animal in it. These "metas" sometimes cooperate, sometimes quarrel, and occasionally reproduce with each other to create a new one of their kind. They haven't noticed the humans yet, though they'll be interested in peaceful trade once they do, at least once they manage to wrap their minds around the concept of entities that have only a single body (there is the implied possibility of an Ender's Game situation where a meta brutally kills a large number of people in what it considers to be just a firm but ultimately harmless way of saying, "hey, back off, man, you're crowding me!" to the hive mind it assumes is controlling them). Of course, this will give a huge advantage to the three metas who border the colonists' plateau, thus upsetting the power balance and possibly starting an inter-meta war.

Giant is a bit of a special case, since it's an artificial world - a huge shell built around a gas giant. It's got a ton of different continents, seeded with life from all manner of different worlds. The ones with Earth life are possible to colonise. Plenty of different alien races have lived on Giant in the past, but so far no one has been able to find any living on it today, just various ruins. On the other hand, Giant is huge, and you could lose a number of even moderately advanced civilisations among its literally hundreds of continents, not to mention the oceans and the interior of the shell.

Pacifica is another ocean world, this one without any major land masses whatsoever. The closest thing to land are species of floating coral-like life forms, some of which can resemble small islands. The planet has only got a very small population, but valuable chemicals can be extracted from the ice at the bottom of its seas, so it's got a number of floating bases on it. There's a space station in orbit where people go for vacations from the uncomfortable life on the surface, and which is a hotbed of industrial espionage and backroom deals. All life in Pacifica is at least mildly psychic, and psychics visiting have weird dreams. The ice on the ocean floor is in fact home to a number of... well, at the risk of oxymoron, you might call them naturally occuring artificial intelligences. :tongue: They have a psychic awareness of the sea life surrounding them, but having evolved solely as disembodied intellects, they don't quite get the idea of the material universe. Niiiiiiice. That's some real Plato's Cave stuff there. Also a nice bit of reversed perspective - the ice intellects are dealing with, and in danger from, entities from beyond the universe they know and that function according to rules that, to them, make absolutely no sense, and doesn't that sound oddly familiar? :tongue:

Wei-Ming is a primarily Chinese-colonised world that used to have sentient life, but it wiped itself out in a series of wars that even 14,000 years later have left large swaths of the surface as deserts of black glass. The rest of the planet is jungle or savannah, with frequent violent thunderstorms. It's got a variety of animal life, most of it six-legged and with a thick carapace, ranging from the terrifying "slashers" to the adorable chimpanzee-like "hanu." The original mingans also had six limbs and seem to have lived in a strict caste system. They built cities of "metallo-plastic" buildings and their surviving artifacts tend to have weird abilities to distort time and space (e.g., containers that can hold content with a combined volume several times larger than the container's own).

This section is really pretty great, especially since it seems to be wholly original. Most of the planets have plot hooks built in, and even the ones that don't are weird and exotic enough to make for an interesting backdrop to your own plots. The only one I thought was a letdown was Giant, which has the age-old problem of being too open-ended - the whole point of the place is that anything could be there, and so the author refuses to limit your imagination by actually telling you about any particular thing that is definitely there. :tongue: I like all the others, though, especially Firefly (enormously gigantic continent-spanning super-aliens!) and Pacifica (corporate intrigue and ethical quandries among the endless seas!).

The next part lists some worlds that haven't been colonised but are important for other reasons.
 
Chapter five: The Realms of the Mythos (part three)
First among the non-colonised worlds is Galatea I, which is populated by humans who used magic to escape the collapse of the Thurian Age some 24,000 years ago. It does not revolve, so one half of it has eternal night and the other half has eternal day; the human civilisation hangs out at the edges of the daylit half. Galateans live in a sort of late-medieval society ruled by nobles who maintain their powers through sorcery and psychic powers. Galatean sorcery is generally more primitive than that of Earth, but they can do some things that Earth-born sorcerers don't know how, like create hyperspatial wards that cover entire cities and forge swords that can cut otherwise invulnerable entities like flying polyps. The OPS hasn't made official contact yet, but it's got undercover agents at Galatea trying to figure out how to work those neat tricks, and also discreetly introducing some handy things like penecillin into their society under the guise of having them discovered by Galatean scholars. High-tech undercover agents in a sword & sorcery society... I admit that that has potential.

Native life on Galatea I has been pushed back by the domesticated cattle and crops the humans brought with them, but beyond the settled areas you get the original flora and fauna, except that apparently the distinction between the two doesn't exist there - most creatures can either take root and photosyntesise or run off and try to eat other creatures, depending on what serves it best at the moment. There are flying polyp colonies on the night side, and the most depraved of the human city-states make deals with them and trade slaves to them in exchange for magic items.

By the way, the sidebar on unique Galatean magic is placed before the actual section on Galatea I starts, breaking up the section on Wei-Ming. I find this to be distracting.

Another human civilisation that is distinct from Earth is the Guan Collective. It occupies at least three planets and possibly more, and its citizens claim to be the descendants of a group of humans the elder ones took as test subjects 50,000 years ago. With the elder ones gone, the Guan Collective now has access to all the technology they left behind. They are very tight-lipped about just what sort of tech they have, though. If there is meant to be some sinister subtext here it's not coming across all that well, but if you're of a pessimistic mindset such as my own, you might well be inclined to think that an entire world-spanning civilisation based on what must to large parts be "black box" technology is a recipe for trouble and that the Guan Collective might not be as perfect and peaceful as they would like the OPS to think.

Cinder is a burned-out husk on the surface, but a long-dead alien race created a network of tunnels beneath it where all manner of weird genetically engineered life forms still survive. Some of them may qualify as sentient, being about as smart as primitive pre-humans and capable of communication and making use of tools. A good place to have run-ins with the alien quivalents of Howardian savage ape-men, then?

Erycinia has dinosaurs. Okay, that's over-simplified, but that's the gist of it. It's got dinosaurs, including a sentient but primitive species of humanoid dinosaur that's just been dubbed "saurs." They actually had a civilisation once, but a Great Old One stopped by and ate 99% of them. It left behind a sort of artifacts that the humans so far assume are naturally occuring, called psi-crystals that gives a psychic "a +2 bonus to their Psychic Art skill." DIE. :angry: "Owning a psi crystal costs one quality point or two experience points." DIE EVEN MORE. :irritated: Anyway, the atmosphere is breathable in the short term but unhealthy in the long term, so Erycinia is a nice place to visit but you can't live there - at least until some clever bastard cooks up a bio-augmentation for it.

Pellucida lost a large chunk of its atmosphere in a fight between elder one genetic engineers and a Great Old One. This is becoming a pattern. :tongue: Though unlike Mars and Canyon, here the change was gradual and took 60 million years, so native life had time to adapt by growing silicate shells to protect it from ultraviolet light and exposure. A sentient species of ten-legged crystal spider managed to achieve a reasonably advanced civilisation but was destroyed by solar flares 1,800 years ago. The OPS currently assumes that they are extinct, but in actuality there are some left that are trying to rebuild their society. Some groups have gotten as far as figuring out radio waves.

Prodigio is... odd. It's got islands floating in the sky, propelled by some sort of hyperspatial technology. There's a number of species, many of whom seem to be non-sentient but bio-engineered to serve as custodians to a variety of advanced machinery. And then there's the prodigians themselves, who are pear-shaped, seven-limbed creatures who all seem to belong to one out of seven great hive minds. The entire surface of the planet is believed to be some sort of incomprehensible machinery carefully engineered to fit seamlessly into the natural landscape. Twice, groups of humans have tried to interfer with the prodigians' incomprehensible affairs. One eventually turned back up in their ship with a splitting headache, no memory of what had happened, and having permanently lost their sense of smell. The other one... didn't. :tongue: It's believed that the prodigians are in the process of transcending.

Wuste is a desert. With sand worms. There's really nothing very interesting about it.

Again, this is a pretty good section. There's plenty of openings for pulpy adventure, and weird aliens of various stripes. I could have used used some more hooks for the Guan Collective, though - much like Giant, I'm sure it's meant to be open-ended, but it's so open-ended as to be downright unhelpful.

Next up is the Dreamlands, which the book has renamed the Dream Realm for some reason.
 
So the first difference I see is that Canyon is called Eridanos in the CineUni version. There is a world called Hathor, and beings called spiders live there. I'm thinking it is Emerald, because while the EU colonized it, there is a lot of Russians there, and later Japan set up a colony on the planet. Ok, looks like Emerald is called Eden in the CineUni version. Giant is called Colossus, but the other human worlds have the same names. So looks like Hathor might have been left out of the SW version.

Chapter Six very briefly mentions 3 worlds the Serpent Men inhabited. Sadly, they were never expanded on in Distant Vistas (which is actually more fluff than mechanical stuff). That's all I will say about that chapter, since you haven't gotten to it yet.

I'm sorely tempted to try and run this now for Free RPG Day. I suck at running online games, so as tempting as it is, I don't think trying to run a forum game would work. I tend to kind of lose interest if things slow down

There's a gamed based on Mythras called Odd Soot, and it sounds like some things might be portable to ES. It's set in an alternate timeline where space travel was developed in the early 20th century, but the aliens are weirdish, so they might fit in a universe like the one from ES.
 
There is a world called Hathor, and beings called spiders live there. I'm thinking it is Emerald, because while the EU colonized it, there is a lot of Russians there, and later Japan set up a colony on the planet.

That sounds like Bree's Landing, actually. Native race called "spiders," colonised first by Russia and the EU and later also by Japan. I suppose they might have crammed two planets together if they thought they were too similar?

Chapter Six very briefly mentions 3 worlds the Serpent Men inhabited. Sadly, they were never expanded on in Distant Vistas (which is actually more fluff than mechanical stuff). That's all I will say about that chapter, since you haven't gotten to it yet.

Hmm, I'll be on the lookout for it, but I can't seem to find it so far. The chapter six description of the Serpent People never mentions them getting off Earth.

I'm sorely tempted to try and run this now for Free RPG Day. I suck at running online games, so as tempting as it is, I don't think trying to run a forum game would work. I tend to kind of lose interest if things slow down.

Awwwwww, come on. Please? I'm starved for games to play in. :grin:
 
wait... so significant pieces of setting were changed for the different game engines but the actual implementation of the differing mechanics was a slapdash job? That's not how you do that:shock:! they made extra work for themselves while consistently messing up a simple rules conversions.
 
IIRC the game was originally not intended to be SW at all. It seems their heart wasn't in it when doing the conversion.
 
But if your hearts not in it why do you it? I know I'm coming off as a Pollyanna but I can't imagine any rpg developer making serious profits off their work, ultimately they do it as a labor of love. I can understand and forgive poor rules and sloppy editing done by someone whoses creativity outpaces their professional skills but doing an RPG project as a quick and lazy cash grab is almost laughable.
 
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