The city of Raima is all you’ve known. It’s all anybody has ever known. An endless, enveloping sprawl of hard-angled concrete bathed in dull phosphorescent light, built upon itself in countless strata. Raima was not built for you or others like you, its intended occupants having vanished eons ago.
You are cybernetic drifters, vat-grown outcasts, gene-spliced mercenaries and robotic itinerants, looking to eke out an existence in the half-light and dark corners of a vast, strange and inhospitable city. Will you delve into the Old Beneath in search of technological relics? Will you search for a place to call home? Will you vie with or throw your lot in with one of Raima’s many formidable factions? Will you seek the mythical Surface above?
Welcome to REBAR, a roleplaying game set in the post-human far future, in an infinite, brutalist city.
WHAT IS REBAR?
REBAR is a roleplaying game / setting I’m currently writing heavily influenced by the works of Tsutomu Nihei, Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne novels, video games by Heart Machine and many other points of inspiration, intended to help facilitate pen and paper role-playing in a distant, post-human future, amongst the ruins of an all-enveloping city. It’s using Chris McDowall’s Into The Odd and Yochai Gal’s Cairn as a base, and adds a few new wrinkles such as Troika!-inspired character backgrounds, combat proficiency / chance to miss, and swapping Willpower for Perception as the third character stat.
Currently the book is still deep in development and isn’t ready for playtesting yet as I’m still working out things like damage values, faction play, exploration, ‘dungeon’ generation and a bunch of other stuff I’m hoping to include. As always, I’m hoping this will be a useful starting point for people to run their games in, as I’ve seen at least a few people asking about the best RPG to use for a BLAME!-style campaign.
I’m hoping to finish the initial manuscript for REBAR in the first half of 2023, and have it mostly ready to go by late 2023 / early 2024. I’m working with the ever-wonderful Jarett Crader of Mothership infamy and previously Exalted Funeral under his new label Space Penguin Ink, which is gearing up to publish a bunch of incredible RPG books this year and beyond.
I’m hoping I can share more on REBAR soon, for now - for now, here’s some words.
BACKGROUND - Chemical Drifter
You are a roaming sellsword carrying ramshackle armour and equipment. A steady microdose of hallucinogenic substances pumped directly into your cerebrocomputer enhances senses out beyond the physical and allows faint perception of the Datasphere. Your speech and movement is lyrical and delicate.
THREAT - Drones
Shambling, distended sleeve-corpses, pseudoflesh rotten and sloughing. Crude machinery and bladed steel are welded to their bones by unknown hands. Most faculties have been lost aside from base survival routines and a capacity for violence. Will attempt to drag any downed victims off, presumably to be broken down or modified. 1d4HP | 9 INSTINCT 1-2: Sleeping | 3-5: Alert, exploring | 6: Dragging off a victim
THREAT - Sentinel
An emotionless porcelain humanoid face atop a 9 foot tall suit of ornate plasteel armour fused with synthetic muscle. Piloted by a tiny, shrivelled biological humanoid encased in an amniotic sac embedded in the armour’s chest. They carry a long, angular glaive (1d6) for defense, and a lightrifle (1d6) for long-range engagement. Once their tower has identified a target, they will pursue tirelessly and kill remorselessly. A sentinel cut off from their tower will wander in search of a new host, their behaviour erratic. 2d6HP | 10 INSTINCT 1: Wandering aimlessly | 2: Singing in lamentation | 3: Searching for a tower | 4: Dormant | 5: Violent frenzy | 6: Pursuing target
FACTION - Sons of Helios
An army of Vat-Grafts, parthenogenically birthed from the blood of their father-god Helios, the self-proclaimed final human. Ornamental uniforms of gold and white mask any identity or individuality in their ranks, the Capsuleers swear unflinching fealty to Helios and his campaign of violent conquest, believing the entire city to be theirs by birthright. They view other Grafts as lesser, of impure stock, and other peoples of Raima as their property. As such, they are uniformly disdainful and often hostile of those outside their ranks.
Values: Conquest, purity, violence
FACTION - Rustbearers
Sleeves and biomachines that worship rust, and view decay as a virtue. They believe that as the creations of humans, the peoples of Raima should likewise perish in a grand and total return to nature. They often symbolically decorate themselves in rust, moss, ivy, fungus and bones. Guided by a small inner circle of scholars and philosophers, they are locked in a bitter and intractable ideological struggle with the Constructivists.
Values: Nature, decay, primitivism
March 15, 2023
What I’ve Been Up To
I realise I’ve kind of abandoned this blog for a wee while now. I’ve had a lot more energy to work on things as of recent, and as such have spent very little time soapboxing or pontificating. Things I’ve been working on are as follows:
Where Abundance Lies
Back from the grave and my main project for now, in which I’ve been learning how to code in Godot, with the aim of eventually completing an immersive sim in the same vein as STALKER. It’s a pretty massive undertaking. Link to devlog here
Carrion For Gulls
A module for Liminal Horror exploring an abandoned cargo ship adrift at sea. I had to abandon this for now, as it ended up succumbing to scenario bloat and general lack of direction. I’d like to restart this at some point, but I want to concentrate on other stuff for now, and come back to it when I can give the attention it deserves.
Grand campaign setting expressing my love for planetary romance sci-fi, science fantasy, post-anthropocene type shit. More or less a superset of the stuff I’m doing for Where Abundance Lies. I mistakenly tried to write a System(tm) for this, which was a dumb idea, and I’m probably going to just use Alight as a base instead. Going to rewrite it as a series of hexcrawls on different planets.
Venison // Hard Lads
Earlier this year, I took part in Violence Jam, a month+ long game jam where myself and a bunch of exceptionally cool and talented folks wrote material for Luke Gearing’s Violence roleplaying system - an extremely lean and brutal rule system designed to simulate the deadliness of actual gunfights. I ended up writing two entries for the jam: Venison, my main entry, a folk horror themed setting depicting 18th century poachers hunting for cursed meat in an enormous hostile estate. And Hard Lads, in which I had a go at tweaking some base rules in order to simulate a pissed-up fistfight in a shit British town.
I pushed myself to work a lot harder than my usual glacial pace to get Venison in on time, and while there’s a whole bunch of stuff I would have loved to include, namely NPCs and actual written locations, I’m still shocked by how much I was able to actually get onto paper. This was also when I discovered that, shockingly, Google Docs is actually totally fine for basic layout. I would love to revisit Venison at some point, and put out a more complete version that fully nails the English folk horror vibe I wanted to convey.
As for Hard Lads, I joked about doing Binley Megadungeon for it at some point. I think that shit pun represents exactly the level of thought I want to put into it. I also discovered that I’d unintentionally shared a title with a very similarly themed project by prolific Quake mapper Robert Yang. Such is life.
I’m going to continue on with Where Abundance lies. I’m having a hell of a time, and getting a lot further than I expected coding game logic, and I’m extremely motivated by trying to make a videogame that takes as many design lessons as possible from the little bubble of post-OSR roleplaying I’ve found myself in, i.e. rejecting core loop theory as principal design pattern and leaning hard into minimally-guided, emergent play. Decree will probably be my backburner project for if I get tired of videogame stuff. Other than that, I’m just excited about finally hitting a creative stride now that I have the spare time and energy to plough back into doing what I love.
October 20, 2022
NOTE: *I ended up writing the barest minimum of scenario and a whole bunch of system for this, which was the opposite of what I intended, so I’m throwing this out there unfinished. Most notably, the equipment section is unwritten. It’s a rather kludgy hack of Yochai Gal’s Cairn with some major influence from Sean McCoy’s null.HACK.
Hopefully there’s one or two things here to pick at for anybody wanting to run OSR-ish games with a Nihei-influenced vibe. In the meantime I’m going to keep hacking away at a far future mythic sci-fi setting for OSR play.*
Tomb City Orphans
The concrete hallways and chambers down here are dark and deathly silent. Every echoing step you take rings your presence. You wonder where everyone went - this place used to teem with people, but after you awoke, they’re all gone.
You can’t stay here. Soon enough you’ll run out of power altogether and you’ll be at the mercy of the things that thrive in absolute darkness. The few of you who are left will need to venture out through the long tunnels into the unknown. Maybe somewhere in the depths you can find others like you. Maybe The Surface is more than just rumour.
It’s not much to go on, but right now it’s the closest thing to hope that you have. Time to go.
Tomb City Orphans is a roleplaying scenario set in a distant future of underground ruins of crumbling concrete, where humankind has long since disappeared. Players each take on the role of a lost inhabitant of this place, usually robotic in nature. It assumes basic knowledge of how to run and play in an RPG and a reasonable degree of trust between participants. It uses a D20 roll-under system for task resolution and is a hack of Cairn’s rules.
Choose a background:
Human-like but designed by humans, you cannot escape your own uncanny valley, but live nonetheless.
Shards of stray consciousness jammed haphazardly into frame. A collage of a lost soul, full of memories of uncertain provenance and body that is not your own.
Function and logic, both ill-at-ease with and reverent of your more human-passing companions. Most at home when provided a clear purpose and task.
Polymorphic, self-modifying code that imitated humanlike personality traits, you now find yourself having developed a consciousness as a means to survive.
Roll 3d6 three times and assign the scores to Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX) and Perception (PER)
Roll 1d6 for Hit Points (HP)
Select three skills from the below table. If the skill is applicable to a task or action for which the outcome is uncertain, the referee may let the player roll at advantage.
Marksmanship | Bartering | Athleticism |
Stealth | Archaeology | Intimidation |
Scavenging | Field repair | Demolition |
Close-quarters combat | Navigation | Esotericism |
Network penetration | Mecha piloting | Systems analysis |
Empathy | Deception | Evasion |
Attacking using a weapon requires a player to successfully roll on one of their stats. This is defined per-weapon, but as a general rule, melee weapons such as swords, axes or glaives require a STR roll, ranged weapons such as pistols, shotguns or SMGs require DEX, and long-range weapons such as rifles and railguns require PER.
Armour acts as an extra layer of HP, and is always deducted first if a character is hit. However, critical hits ignore armour. When a character’s armour is reduced to zero, the armour breaks.
When attacking, take note of the stat your weapon uses and attempt to roll under your score. If you succeed, you deal 1HP damage. If the result is 4 or below, you deal 1d6HP critical damage.
All normal weapons deal 1HP damage, explosives, exotic and super-heavy weaponry always deal critical damage on hit.
If attacking unarmed, roll for STR. Your opponent must succeed a STR save or take 1HP damage.
When a PC is dealt critical damage, they should roll on the below table and subtract the score from their stats as appropriate.
||Direct hit to body
||-1d6 STR, immobilised
||Side of torso blown off
||-2d6 STR, -1d6 DEX, knocked prone
||Internal battery rupture
||-2d6 STR, -2D6 DEX, knocked prone, explosive
||Processor array destroyed
||Black box destroyed
||cannot be recovered after death
If HP, STR, DEX or PER are reduced to zero, a character becomes broken, and cannot perform any actions by themselves until repaired. If any two stats are reduced to zero, they die. However if intact, a dead PC’s black box can be recovered and transplanted into a new body-frame. During this process, the character’s personality and memories remain intact, but new stats for HP, STR, DEX and PER must be rolled.
During downtime, any character can attempt to field-repair another character that has been broken. The outcome of this is always uncertain. If the action succeeds, the repairer can re-roll the broken stat. If the action fails, the repairer instead rolls 1d4 for that stat.
April 3, 2022
TAKE JOY IN PLAYERS VIOLATING YOUR CAREFULLY CRAFTED MECHANICS
FOR PLAY HAS NO CARE FOR THE INTENT OF THE DESIGNER
REJECT BEHAVIOURISM IN ALL ITS GUISES
STRIVE INSTEAD TO BUILD BEAUTIFUL, MUTABLE FICTIONS
WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO SIMULATE IS AN ARTISTIC STATEMENT
AS IS HOW THE PLAYER BREAKS IT
DEATH TO UX
DEATH TO INCENTIVE
DEATH TO THE CORE LOOP
JANK IS A VIRTUE
THE IMMERSIVE SIM IS DEAD
LONG LIVE THE IMMERSIVE SIM
STALKER: Anomaly Kenshi The Precursors Xenus 2 Mechajammer Serpent In The Staglands Cruelty Squad EYE: Divine Cybermancy G-String Brigand: Oaxaca Northern Journey Infra Arcana Tolroko
March 29, 2022
The beauty in repetition isn’t in striving for perfection, but in forming patterns, and watching how time changes them.
February 6, 2022
The Time // It Takes
I have bipolar disorder. The psychologists and psychiatrists I have seen tell me it’s a particular variant known as cyclothymia, or as it’s sometimes referred to, type 3 bipolar. I have known this for a long time now, although the NHS refuse to issue me a formal diagnosis, making accessing any specialised medication for it impossible. I have tried several types of non-specialised antidepressant medication, on which I dissociated, was sent into manic spirals, ruined what semblance of eating and sleeping patterns I had, and screamed until my throat was in agony. So, for years now, I have dealt with this through nothing other than the coping strategies developed via a lengthy period of outpatient psychotherapy.
On many days, this is enough, but on some it isn’t. On some, the bright light of living is fucking blinding. It’s too much to bear. On others there is simply no life to be derived from anything. I have heard cyclothymia referred to as ‘mild bipolar’, and while I only dread to think of the weeks-long nacrotic highs and deathly lows of type 1 bipolar; the thing about the third type is that things change so rapidly it can become impossible to orient yourself, pinballing from one mental state to the other while desperately trying to find a thread to hold onto.
Statistically, I am 20-30 times more likely than the average person to choose to end my life. Some sources say the suicide rates for those with bipolar disorder are as high as one in five. My chances of making it through life without voluntarily ending it are arguably less than if a neurotypical person put a round in the cylinder of a revolver, put the gun to their head and squeezed the trigger. I feel that pull frequently.
Every time I come out the other side of an ideation unscathed feels like a little victory. A smug middle finger to the wolf at the door. I’ve lived through countless attempts on my life and came out every single one (mostly) unscathed. A chill here, some cuts and bruises there. Fuck you, I lived. Sure, the person I’m saying that to is myself, but I’ll take that over death by my own hand. I am more powerful than some bullshit post about how men die because they don’t open up. I’m here, I’ve opened up and you’re all fucking silent.
Anyway, I’ve digressed. What is worst about bipolar isn’t any of this, but the time it takes from you. The amount of life you just lose in the churn. I can barely remember most of my 20s. I look back on photos and videos of that time and almost don’t recognise myself. And it is endlessly frustrating just to lose whole days, weekends, weeks to it. Time I could have spent making memories with my partner who means the whole fucking world to me, or writing music, or learning how to make the games I’ve always wanted to make; instead just desperately trying to find that thread.
I’ve wasted this weekend trying to find the thread. There will be other times. Hopefully I’m not going anywhere any time soon.
January 23, 2022