Designer’s Notes: The Psyber Devangelist and Other Psi-Sci-Fi

Yes, I made another thing! By thing, I mean I made something cool for MÖRK BORG. By something cool, I mean I spent a lot of time—possibly too much time—on a new class along with some new equipment, weapons, powers, things to kill you, and some additional mechanics. It’s all inspired by science-fiction, cyberpunk, psychic powers, psionics, etc.

The class is comparable to a cheeseburger—it’s an artificial post-biological horror.

I also greatly appreciate the outright support because this is the closest thing I have to income right now, and I am at least trying to make fun things, build a portfolio, and earn enough off of my work that my hobby is self-sustaining. And the work. Because I had to buy better software instead of using something that’s meant for making slideshows.

First and foremost, I need to say that Evlyn Moreau and her Orbital Megastructures have been my biggest inspiration. I’ve always loved science fiction, but it always felt out of reach in terms of tabletop RPG playability—for me, that is. Running science fiction as a GM feels tough to me. There’s so much to remember, so much to consider, so much to… Well, it’s not medieval fantasy, and that’s just everywhere. I can remember swords. I can remember spells. But I (at least thought I couldn’t) remember security systems and commlinks and all that stuff. Well, Evlyn makes it look and feel so easy, and I think doubly so because I think she is a great GM and I think she has created (or is creating) a great game. (It is also semi-post-apocalyptic, which is also an easier way to manage futuristic themes.) The very process of playing a game like that got me so excited to create something sci-fi-ish of my own.

Also, I used a ton of her lovely art.

And then there’s the great cover art by Matthew Neff. What a lovely Discord notification to get. Oh, some person on the Discord made art inspired by my class, and they let me know that it’s totally cool if I want to use it. Did I cry? Yes. Yes, I did.

But, yes, I love sci-fi. I love Neon Genesis Evangelion, I love Bionicle, I love Cyberpunk, I love Shadowrun, I like Star Wars, and I even like making references to things I don’t know much about like Warhammer 40k. There are a few loving references to Orbital Megastructures, there’s another reference to Ultraviolet Grasslands, and there’s a secret reference to my first GURPS campaign*.

*The first background for the Psyber Devangelist mentions being unable to return to a vision that a seer saw of their own death. That goes back to the Eire Era (the unofficial name that my best friend and I gave our campaign ran by his dad). One of our several characters—we each had a couple—used the Death Vision spell in a wild mana zone. Probably not the best idea. We saw a vision of Jack (my best friend’s first character) as a cyborg, but he stepped through the Death Vision as if it were a portal, and he tried to kill us. He almost succeeded too. CyberJack went nuclear, but one of my characters was able to call in a wave and then freeze it over him.

Anyway, it’s all in there. As well as a mechanic inspired by Darkest Dungeon, which I recently beat by cheating my way through it.

Returning to GURPS for just a second, let’s just say I’m very inspired by the system as a whole. I often use it as a reference point, like oh, this rifle does twice as much damage as this pistol—I’ll remember that. The less I play GURPS, the more I appreciate it as if it is a game design toolkit.

Oh, and I threw in Advantage and Disadvantage because I was quite surprised that MÖRK BORG didn’t have them out of the box. Double oh, and I threw in Energy Dice based off of Risk Dice based off of Usage Dice. That’s the power of evolution.

This whole project evolved, and I hope it shows. As you leave the class and get into page 3, there start to be neon green symbols. Then, on page four, the symbols and the text boxes are starting to glow. I have a lot of fun with design—pretending like I know what I’m doing. That’s actually not even true. I don’t pretend. I just try to make things that I would like.

But what about the other stuff?

The cover title was added last, so I played with a couple of extra fonts to tie together a cyber-horror feel to intro into the funkier bits in the actual content. The title on page 1 just uses some funky fonts to evoke that sci-fi feeling. My main font is my go-to font, but it turned out to be a dumb font that doesn’t even have an italic style, but at least I learned how to shear! There might be maybe two text boxes in the whole thing that don’t have some kind of rotation to them. I love the way rotation makes the text look. I used text highlighting, and I cheated a lot, adding in non-breaking spaces to help pad out some areas that needed adjusting. For colors, I kept to the black, white, pink, and yellow for the most part. A compatible cyan-blue-ish color gets tossed in to grab your eyes toward important notes. Of course, I made generous use of bolding as well as small caps to draw attention to certain things. Finally, on pages 3 and 4, for the creature titles, I used a more blackletter-y font to tie the idea of these strange horrors back to the MÖRK BORG feel.

And how about a review of a review?

by Līber Lūdōrum from here

That’s a good review.

I’m pretty proud of what I’ve made, and I appreciate that others enjoy it as well.

End of September report

Life still slowly goes on, even with that disaster of a presidential debate last night. I don’t even have to get political to say that I got really tired really fast of watching the impeached president act like a petulant child. It doesn’t matter whose side I’m on (which is a dumb way of putting it anyway), but that was really embarrassing, and I’m embarrassed on behalf of my entire country. Also, I hate this your side, my side kind of stuff. On the internet (which I recognize is not a good representation of the real world), I saw someone complaining about the impeached president only pay $750 in taxes, and someone from the other side said something along the lines of, well, I’m sure the husband of the speaker of the House does the same, and I bet would wouldn’t care about that, right? Actually, wrong. My side, your side, our side, their side, I’d like the same standards to be upheld and I love when people call out hypocrisy, and I’m not afraid to call out my side. Because my side is me and my values, and my side is whatever leads to a higher quality of living for the average American citizen and for every American citizen, and that’s based on facts and science and also feelings. Everyone thinks that’s their side, but it’s not. Because I said every. I want better things for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, the Green Party, black persons, white persons, latino/a persons, gay persons, straight persons, asexual persons, bisexual persons, persons with depression, persons with pre-existing conditions, persons living in poverty, persons living on the street, persons with diabetes, communities with less support than others… I really mean everyone. And that’s not radical. It’s not radical or even political to care about everyone, even and perhaps especially the people that I don’t agree with about certain things. Wanting to take care of people doesn’t mean I support the ideas that those people has. It means that I hope they will come to be more compassionate and understanding if I show them care. At the same time, yes, I agree—to be tolerant means being intolerant toward intolerance. I am not preaching tolerance. I’m preaching care and education and stopping the abuse. Racists and homophobes and bigots don’t appear out of thin air. They’re taught by people and by our system. So, we need to fix that.

Wow, okay, I tangent-ed hard. I’m not exactly thrilled about life right now. But I am really starting to recover from my surgery, so there’s that. And, in my more private life, other small good things seem to be popping up, so I’m holding on to the things for which I am grateful. Everyone knows it—it’s been a year. The trials I have faced are real, but they pale in comparison to all of the misfortune around the world this year. And some of it was very preventable.

Let’s… keep going.

Conlang report

Alright. It’s been another slow month. And I also haven’t been a good member of the LCS. I believe my membership has actually been lapsed for a while, but I’ll fix that. And the annual meeting is coming up, which I’ve never done before because I’ve been so out of touch with community stuff, which means—like I said—I haven’t been a great member. I’ll remedy that.

I’ve also been watching some crash course linguistics with my partner for fun, and that’s been whetting my appetite for conlanging as well.

RPG stuff report

I continue to run MÖRK BORG, and I even made a little bit of income from two short pieces of material that I wrote for the game, which you can find on my itch.io page. I’m working on more content. I don’t have any intention of trying to make this my dayjob (though, it is something since I don’t have a dayjob right now), but it would be kinda cool to at least make my hobby financially self-sustaining, and it also really allows me to give back to a hobby and a community that has given so much to me. Oh! And I’m finally a player again. I’ve played a couple of sessions of Macchiato Monsters in the Post Humans Orbital Structures setting with the setting creator and some other cool people over on the PHOS Discord. I missed it so much!

Writing stuff report

Yep, it’s a month until NaNoWriMo, and I’m actually thinking of dropping my writing project from last year and using the month to work on generating tabletop RPG content. I still want to write a novel, and I think starting with smaller projects is even better for helping me get there. I’m learning a lot in the process, and just being able to say I’ve published two very short pieces has really bolstered my self-esteem (which means I may just barely be at almost-normal levels).

Designer’s Notes: Séquelle — an Album Crawl

As I’m recovering from my surgery, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to throw up some— Actually, that’s a poor choice of words since I’ve been feeling pretty nauseous since the surgery. Anyway, here’s some designers’ notes. Yes, plural—I created this with my amazing partner.

We had been listening to Ghost’s album Prequelle a lot. It just kinda happened. A friend of mine pointed me to the album a while ago, but it just resurged in my brainspace, and my partner got attached to it as I hummed it and sang it while driving, doing dishes, etc. I was also getting into MÖRK BORG, and I really loved the community-suggested idea of doing an album crawl: taking an album and turning the ideas within into an adventure. So, I thought it would be fun for my partner and I to work on that, and I was mostly right. Admittedly, I was a bit of a butt in the beginning as I took on way too much self-inflicted pressure, but we got better at working together, which is, of course, a great skill to have, and we don’t usually work on projects together unless cooking, dishes, cleaning, laundry, etc. all count.

The hardest part for me was killing my darlings, which I had to do a couple of times. First, I had to be more relaxed in how I could fit the ideas together instead of trying to force everything to feel perfect, which is what really helped me relax from my self-inflicted pressure. Even then, I had to kill more darlings because all of our ideas wouldn’t fit on an A4 spread. I had an idea for a fun-but-simple puzzle door that I had to cut, and I’d explain it in more detail, but I plan to reuse it.

I also kept making dozens of small edits. Fitting things better. Formatting. Making certain pieces of the adventure stand out more. Squeezing in the licensing at the end. Tweaking the color because I had accidentally left Night Light on. It really taught me a lot.

But what does my partner have to say after all of it? She says it was fun even though it was a bit stressful in the beginning, and that it was a fun way for us to continue learning how to work together. She also really enjoyed the putting-it-together part, pulling together all of the public domain bits, which she felt really crossed over into her own work as a librarian.

We also agree that it was really fun to play it. She really enjoyed making something that we could actually use, and I definitely agree with her there. She was a good sport at not cheating when we played through it together with the rest of our group.

Designer’s Notes: Carousing in the Dying World

Yes—I published something!

I had finished the first inkling of a ‘draft’ for Carousing in the Dying World and posted it to the MÖRK BORG Discord just minutes before there was an announcement of the brand-new MÖRK BORG Third Party License. My fun carousing tables got buried. Truly, I wasn’t bitter—I was excited about the new license. It just gave me a chuckle. So, I posted it over in another channel on the Discord, and a member tagged me in the Forever GM Discord we hang out in and was like, Hey, you got a web page for your stuff? Because it’s good and people should be able to give you money. That was the moment that I became a capitalist and started worshiping Ayn Rand. Well, maybe I would have, but I didn’t have a page for my stuff.

See, I love GURPS—everyone knows that—, but all of my ideas were super-duper free because GURPS isn’t very open with its license. Which is cool. I respect that. But, because I was too scared to ever submit anything to the Pyramid magazine while it was still alive, that meant I wasn’t selling anything. Anyway, I didn’t really want to.

But this guy was like, Let me help you. So, I let him. (If you want to know who he is, then go check out his stuff. Matthew is great.) Of course, I didn’t have anything to sell, but he really encouraged me to throw something out there. So, with a little help and encouragement from my partner, I threw together my carousing rules and made them ‘real’.

Well, why did I make them? I love the OSR idea of having XP revolve around loot and using carousing as a way to part them from said loot. I first really saw this in Ultraviolet Grasslands by Luka Rejec, but that iteration led me to dozens of other takes on that idea, and many go quite a ways back.

I’ll admit that they’re probably a bit sillier than the dark tone of MÖRK BORG, but I original wrote these up for my own use, so they’re made to fit at my table.

I’ve already got some more ideas. I don’t imagine I’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.

That being said, some really incredible work has already come out that dwarfs mine, which has really reminded me that I’ve got a lot of growing to do in this space, but I am so honored to be able to give back to a community and a hobby that has given so much to me. I was very lucky to get in on the license so early, be mentioned in a tweet by the MÖRK BORG account, mentioned on their Facebook page, and mentioned in this article on Geek Native.

Beginning of September report

Oh yeah! August is over. This time around, it was less of a month disappearing and more of being so engaged in other things that I forgot what day it was. That’s definitely an upgrade from feeling depressed and tired; though, it only came halfway through the month—perhaps, that’s why I lost track of the day! Anyway, my partner has a mid-low-tier gaming PC now—an Optiplex 9020 SFF with a low-profile 1650 in it—; so, I’ve been back to playing some Deep Rock Galactic since we can play it together (and it’s just so much more fun with friends).

In my last monthly report, I mentioned that I hadn’t had internet in a couple of days, and I’m laughing now because I’ve already forgotten about that mess. Sorry, past me. That two days turned into two weeks. And three technicians over five visits. And threatening to cancel WOW! only to find out that I had (apparently) signed a two-year contract, but we got a lowered rate out of it—well, lower than the rate it was supposed to increase to.

Conlang stuff report

Oh, boy. I went deep into Toaq, Ceqli, Toki Pona, and Toki Pona Enhanced. Oh, and Sapolim, which is doing something similar to what I want to do. I’ve learned both about predicates and arguments as well as how to make a conlang fun and whimsical. It feels like lots of changes are coming to greyfolk language. I think I’ve been saying that for a while, but conlanging has been slow work for me. I really think I’ll end up with a few different versions, but that was really the plan anyway. (Why relex English when I can relex my own conlang, amirite?)

I even played around with some temporary vocabulary (i.e., unofficial vocabulary that I generated only for test sentences) to try out some sentences. I really need to make a small update post or two about those things—this blog has been leaning too far into tabletop RPGs. (Not that I actually care, but this isn’t greyson.tabletopRPG.org after all. I wish I could buy that domain, though!)

I also still need to talk more about Globasa!

RPG stuff report

I recently published a post about moving away from GURPS and diving into the OSR scene, and I’ve been continuing down the path that I set out for myself. Right now, I’m in love with Mörk Borg. As I said before, Mörk Borg is a rules-lite over-the-top black-metal-inspired fantasy OSR-ish tabletop RPG that leans into itself while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously that hasn’t been out for long but already has a great community. I’m not sure I could whittle down my description of it to any less than that. I’ll save more of my praise for a review, but it’s been great, and my group has already been enjoying it. I’ve already created a handful of house rules because I saw a few gaps that I wanted to fill in, and I love to tinker.

Playing something else has also rekindled my interesting in tinkering with GURPS. There’s so much less pressure to tinker with a game that I’m not currently playing. (And I’ve also been revisiting my thoughts on Fate and Savage Worlds.) More and more, I’m starting to think that it’s time to build my own system, especially because I’ve become more and more comfortable with the idea of building my own first system. Looking into the more indie side of tabletop RPG gaming, I’ve seen a lot of creative and original people make some awesome stuff, and it the community is also transparent enough that I’ve seen the humble beginnings of a lot of those same people. Also, there is a lot of support in the community—infectious support. For example, as I was trying to catch up on every zine and adventure and setting and cool system, the creator of The World Broke announced their launch on the Mörk Borg Discord. Now, I’m not really into Into the Odd, but, for $4, how was I not going to support a creator in a community that I already love when the product looks so neat and well-made? I’ll skip a coffee.

Alright, I’ll save the rest of my mania for other blog posts.

Writing stuff report

Almost nothing has happened in this corner again. NaNoWriMo is slowly creeping up on me, and I think I want to continue working on the same story I started last year. Of course, as I was saying above, it would be nice to start working on a tabletop RPG system, but I might just have to temper my own excitement and allow that to be its own project.

Tabletop RPGs other than GURPS and diving into the OSR scene

What a hefty title! As I type this out, I’m listening to Mörk Borg by GNOLL—that’ll be important a little bit later. As I’ve talked about in at least one of my monthly updates (including last month’s in which I shared a link to a thread about alternatives to GURPS), I’ve been experiencing GM fatigue, burnout, whatever you want to call it; but I also think I’ve been experiencing some kind of GURPS fatigue. (Maybe I just need to put more points in HT.) As much as I love the system, I think it might be too much for me—at least, for right now. The way that my group plays (and I tend to GM) is looser and more narrative and more focused on what feels right even though we all so much adore that GURPS is so great at simulation, which is really cool, but it kind of begs me to overthink things a lot. At our core, I think my group is more of a Fate group, but that’s not the right system for us either because it’s too loose and things start to feel very same-y after a while. (And I’m only talking about our experiences, of course.)

So, what do I want? Well, it would be something a lot like Fate (flexible, narrative, player-focused), but it would feel less like a toolkit, it would put a greater emphasis on equipment, it wouldn’t be so narrative-focused that it kind of waves away magic, and it would scale well in size and power level (which is why I thought “Knowing Your Own Strength” from Pyramid #3/83: Alternate GURPS IV was such a good start at this for GURPS). I really enjoy not having HP (which is why I really like “Conditional Injury” from Pyramid #3/120: Alternate GURPS V), classes, and levels.

Well, what else is out there? As I said, I have some experience with Fate, which I really do like. For a party-ish pick-up-y game, I’ve played lots of Everyone Is John, which is also fun, but is obviously not the kind of game I want to play for anything more than a session or two. Of course, there’s always Dungeons & Dragons, and I’ve dabbled in 3.5e, 4e, and 5e. I’m glad I did because it allowed me to find Eberron, but even D&D feels like too much while also feeling restricted. (Again, to me. I’m definitely not saying it is, and your mileage may greatly vary!) I’m not a fan of classes and spell lists, and I really think that there are just better alternatives even if I want that same D&D feeling (without going full Dungeon Fantasy RPG, of course). I also tried out the first edition of Pathfinder way back when, and that gave me similar feelings.

Now, as we’ve recently been playing Deadlands in my group, I know that Savage Worlds exists. As I’ve read over SWADE, it seems like it wants to be what I want: fun, fast, and furious. Better yet, PK has some great house rules and gives the system a nice recommendation: “Despite its quirks, Savage Worlds may be the best universal system when it comes to balancing groups of wildly disparate abilities and power levels.” That really speaks to me, and I even reached out to let PK know that said review convinced me to give it a go. Which I haven’t yet. But I’ll surely get there! Now, Savage Worlds still has a spell list of sorts with its powers, but they’re much more generic and there are guidelines on how to reflavor them, which is great. Plus, there’s a wonderfully-made Eberron conversion for SWADE, which means I can play Eberron without D&D and also without doing the heavy lifting of converting Eberron to a more palatable system (for my particular tastes).

Some other options I’ve found:

  • Numenera and the Cypher system in general seem pretty promising, and I’d definitely like to actually give it a go at some point. Numenera was actually the first tabletop RPG that my partner played—thanks to some random frat party.
  • Call of Cthulhu and the Basic Roleplaying system also seem interesting. If our group was more into horror, it’d probably be a higher priority.
  • Big Eyes Small Mouth and the Tri-Stat dX system, the Hero system, and Mutants and Masterminds are all recommendations I’ve been given, but they feel so close to GURPS that I’d rather play that instead (though, I will say that all three of them handle powers and balance quite a bit better).
  • Powered by the Apocalypse feels like an okay narrative system, but I don’t think we’d like it.
  • Genesys seems really popular for this kind of play style, but I don’t like the funky dice.
  • Cortex Prime also feels promising. It seems like it falls somewhere between Fate and Savage Worlds, which sounds right for us. I’ll definitely be giving this one a try.
  • Blades in the Dark is relatively new (to me, at least) tabletop RPG that I know very little about, but it seems like people on the internet really like it. Industrial fantasy sounds up my group’s alley, so this one has to get a try at some point.
  • Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine is another game that I’ve heard about only recently, and, while our group doesn’t ever really do the whole slice-of-life thing, we all enjoy Studio Ghibli movies, so it seems worth checking out for that feeling.
  • The Fantasy Trip is supposed to be something like GURPS 0e, and it has gained a fair amount of support and popularity since its revival in 2019. So, of course I have to check it out.
  • Everywhen just popped up on my radar, and I’ve seen a lot of reviews talking about it as if it’s the middle ground for other people who have likewise pendulum’d between GURPS and Fate—just based on that alone, it seems like it’d be worth a try.
  • Mörk Borg then showed itself to me. (Really, I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it even though it was just a few days ago. Perhaps it was the will of SHE.) A rules-lite over-the-top doom metal fantasy game that leans into itself while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously that hasn’t been out for long but already has a great community? Fantastic. Now, I’m not usually a fan of d20 systems (as I’m a true believer of the 3d6 bell curve), so that says a lot. Plus, the game is gorgeous. It feels like someone tried to turn in one assignment both to their art and game design class. Now, the art (and the dozen fonts) can detract from the experience of reading it, but it has a handy more-easily-readable guide toward the back of the most important rules. I judged a book by its cover, and it has already paid off.

Let’s leave the bullet point and talk even more about Mörk Borg. (I love the colors, and my site is currently pretty much themed for it.) It’s fun, fast, and furious—so, watch out, Savage Worlds. But what exactly is Mörk Borg? Like, what makes it tick? Where did it come from? Why does something like that even exist? What had I been missing in my GURPS-centric world? It turns out I had been missing a growing community filled with indie tabletop RPGs and zines. Why let Wizards of the Coast or some other big company have all of the fun if indie hobbyists can do it better? A big part of this seems to be OSR, which is Old School Revival (or Renaissance or Roleplaying). I am just a wee baby, so I would rather let Questing Beast explain what OSR is. Now, I guess Mörk Borg isn’t actually “true OSR”, but it is definitely OSR-ish or OSR-adjacent or whatever. (And I guess that would make The Fantasy Trip something like GURPS OSR.) Still, the spirit of OSR tends to capture what I’m looking for, especially those that focus more on narrative and eschew classes (and, yes, I know that Mörk Borg has optional classes, but it also has an optional non-class-based feat system).

So, I stumbled into a whole new facet of my tabletop RPG hobby, and I hope this mania simmers and leaves me with a steady rekindled flame of passion. Especially because I’m going to be running Mörk Borg in about a week and a half.

Some games that I’ve stumbled upon so far (not all OSR or even adjacent):

  • The White Hack (a streamlined and innovative OSR-compatible retroclone)
  • The Black Hack (a more-recent streamlined and innovative OSR-compatible retroclone)
  • Macchiato Monsters (which is like a fusion of The Black Hack and The White Hack, and it is very high on my to-play list)
  • Beyond the Wall
  • The Legend of Zelda: Reclaim the Wild
  • Legend of Zelda RPG (which was made by 4chan, I guess)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Maze Rats and also Knave (which are made by the Questing Beast, look amazing, and are very high on my to-play list)
  • Into the Odd and also Electric Bastionland
  • Jump the Shark (another silly one-shot micro-RPG)
  • Over Arms (which is inspired by JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Persona—count me in!)
  • NUMA (which is about frog samurai—count me in!)
  • Pacts and Blades
  • Into the Bronze
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • OSE
  • Prole and also Tunnel Goons
  • Acres Past (the game formerly known as Acres Wild)
  • Night Yeast (a cool zine)
  • Dissident Whispers (a great BLM-supporting anthology)
  • Troika
  • Torchbearer
  • Swords & Wizardry

Really, I can’t vouch for any of these too terribly much, and this list is likely way more helpful for me (to keep track of all of this stuff) than it is for you. Still, there’s some kind of lesson in here about how I’ve been into the tabletop RPG hobby for over a decade and have only just now stumbled across these games thanks to chance and GM burnout. I’m excited to do something different. Well, more than something… There are a lot of games on my list. The good news is that I’ll probably never burn out on a system again. Oh, but—one last thing—I can vouch for Mörk Borg. I ran a quick one-shot duet with my partner, and we agreed very quickly that it feels nice and fun.