Monday 10 February 2020

The cyberdungeon project

Here's a thing I've started working on.

It is the distant future. The forces of industrialisation and digitisation have run rampant. The earth's ecosystem has crumbled as the planet's surface is taken over by a single huge urban sprawl, buildings upon buildings, machines upon machines. The whole world a single techno-industrial facility. Everything interlinked in a single vast infrastructure.
Despite the collapsing biosphere, humanity flourished, for a while. Minds were uploaded to the digital web, human forms genetically engineered to become stronger, cleverer, more beautiful. Disease eradicated, poverty legislated away. Vast God-AIs managing sectors of the sprawl.
In short, mankind created - at the expense of the natural world - a post-human, post scarcity utopia.

This, of course, did not last.
The humans died. Why? Nobody is quite sure. Perhaps unexpected sickness, perhaps mutually-assured destruction in some vast post-human culture war, perhaps a digital virus spreading intense suicidality. But overnight, they all died.

The infrastructure ground on. Without humans, it lacked purpose. Without the guidance of organic intelligence, the machinery of the world began to fail its maintenance, to fall apart or distort itself. The world of machines continued to turn over, blindly continuing the same routines as it fell into disrepair and decay.

This, then, is the world that you find yourself in. The last few remnants of humanity - those that weathered the mass death in stasis-pods or who the birthing-engines created after everybody were dead - squat in the empty ruins of their former empire. The world is a single tangle of tunnels and corridors, of pipes and cables connecting the vast infrastructure. As the world-engines continue their work, humanity must survive in the cracks between them, existing as scavengers alongside the rats and cockroaches.

So. Post-human post-apocalyptic cyber-dungeon crawling.Taking inspiration from a few IPs, most notably BLAME!, Horizon Zero Dawn and the Adaptes Mechanicus. An OSR game with integrated digital combat, and a focus on transhumanism.

How's this going to work, mechanically? I'm taking Into the Odd as my base mechanics, and hacking them to fit the setting.

PCs have three ability scores:
Strength (the power of their physical form)
Mind (the power of their psyche/memory/programming)
and Dexterity (how good the interface between physical form and psyche are).

They then also have two separate HP tracks:
Hardware Points, which absorbs physical attacks. Once it runs out, damage overflows to Strength.
and Software Points, which absorbs digital/mental attacks. Once it runs out, damage overflows to Mind.

You cross-reference HP and SP to determine your PC's starting package, which will include your weapons, defences, weird equipment, and what sort of being you are.
There are three sorts of being you can be:
AIs (albeit small ones in mobile human-scale frames). Immune to poison/sickness/etc. Vulnerable to hacking and EMPs. Need power to function. Get access to a memory banks, and get more as they level up.
Humans. Immune to EMPs, vulnerable to poison/sickness. Generally immune to hacking unless they have specific implants. Need food to function. A subset of humans - 'feral humans' are born naturally rather than out of birthing-vats, and are mechanically the same but culturally distinct.
Synthetic Life (or 'synths'). Vulnerable to hacking, EMPs and biological attacks. Can function on power or food. Artificial life forms, basically.

You get four types of attack:
-Physical attacks (guns, knives, fire, etc) hit your HP. Everybody takes this damage.
-Digital attacks (hacking attempts, basically) hit your SP. Humans without specific implants are immune. The basic attacks you start out with just overload the victim with data, and when their Mind hits 0, they're bricked. More sophisticated hacking is the domain of exploits and enhancements, and might have other effects beyond just bricking the victim.
-Biological attacks (poison, pathogens, etc) hit your HP. Only biological things (humans and synths) take this damage.
-EMPs hit your HP and your SP at the same time. Only AIs and Synths are vulnerable to this. It's good, because it hits your enemy where its weakest, but its also a blunt tool that tends to wreck things rather than disabling them to salvage.

On top of this, there are two types of  'cool thing' you can get in character gen: Exploits and Enhancements.
Exploits are basically your equivalent of spells. Each is a 1-time hacking or programming effect that lets you do something odd; either directly to another being, or by accessing otherwise hidden functions of the infrastructure. They might let you re-write somebody's memories, create a forcefield to protect yourself, reverse the direction of gravity, restore somebody's lost HP, or similar. You prepare an Exploit ahead of time, store it in a Memory Bank, and then expend it when you need to use it.
Enhancements are always-on powers, generally cybernetic implants, genetic engineering or similar. Things like being able to walk up walls, having an emergency override for if you get hacked, extra arms, or x-ray vision.
For both, if your starting package gives you one, you cross-reference your best stat and its value. So if your best stat is Dexterity, and it has a value of 15, that will give you a particular Exploit.

Levelling up is going to be fairly simple. You can find raw materials as you explore, and graft them onto PCs to improve them. If you find processing units and add them to a PC, that PC gets more Software Points. Likewise, if you find a cybernetic, you can graft it into somebody, and that person gets a new enhancement. Old and powerful PCs will therefore be a cobbled-together frankenstein of parts they've scavenged up.

The game's structure starts with a Home Settlement for the PCs; a base of operations with basic resources, security, friendly NPCs etc. From here, they can venture out into the world to explore and scavenge. I'll set up a Ynn-style depth mechanic, so that the further they go from home, the weirder the stuff they find is. On top of this, I plan to include a hard cap on how deep you can explore in a particular area (such as your starting area). Once you hit this, you'll need to go back and find a route to a new sector, which will again start at depth 0. Different types of sectors will have different random generators for what you find as you explore.

Anyway, it's early days yet, but I'm slowly putting things together.


  1. I am very glad to read this, and excited about new world (especially with more depth).

  2. Question: given that AI and Synths are playable and that the more powerful they become the more processing power they probably have, what do you think of idea from Alchemical Exalted to let them become new homehubs by integrating, eventually, with local infrastructure as guiding AI and then creating a proxy body?
    (Alchemicals also has slottable charms (i.e. implants and software) but I don't recall how well it worked in system.

    1. This is an intended mode of late-game play.
      Nothing stops a human from doing this, too.
      For more inspiration, see:

  3. oooh, interestting. Ages ago I was playing around with a setting where the party was an AI that had awaken to a post-apocalyptic world and the PC was sub-routines distributed in remote robot bodies. A dead PC just meant that they had to start up a new chassis back at the AI core. A bit like Paranoia clones concept. This idea of your seem like a gold mine for me to draw inspiration and wisdom from!!

  4. Same energy? (discussion of impossibly large pseudo-cyberpunk post-human setting and its potential for rpgs)

    Very much like the sound of those changes to Into the Odd!

  5. Love the idea. Will you be running this on the Discord server by any chance?

  6. I love iTO, and I love your work, so seeing an iTO based system from you is A+

  7. Awooga! Awooga! (My eyes expand in fractal bloom from the sockets of my Tex Avery wolf-skull, spreading infinitely across 11 vectors of realspace and n-infinite vectors of virtual space)

  8. If you wanted to make the two sets of hit points feel more different, electronic attacks could tend to change the victim's behavior--more like spells, curses or diseases in a fantasy setting than like being hit by a weapon.