Thursday, April 25, 2013

The SUE System: the Prologue Begins

Here we go. This is the start of the campaign before the campaign; think of it as a prequel that came to run simultaneously with it. We weren’t told from the beginning that this was the SUE System, mind you; that came in stages. Initially, this was proposed as a sort of RPG-esque Thing a Week. Let’s run a weekly one-shot in various unusual systems we’ve never gotten to really play in and see what happens. After a few weeks of that, “in order to stop having to make new characters every week”, the GM proposed using his universal system to run Thing a Week in settings rather than systems, and that’s what started this. I maintain to this day that we were shanghaied.
Our slog through the campaign begins with two of us. I’m playing a scientist, and my friend is playing “[my] creation/assistant”, because the GM doesn’t know how science works. We’re also on a “general purpose science vessel” working on “genetic manipulation” in the lightless reaches of interstellar space, because…honestly, I don’t think we had even our usual insulting token of a reason. There’s just the SS Test Tubes ‘n Lasers floating in the middle of this Star Wars ripoff universe that the GM will not shut up about to this day. One day I’ll go into how perfectly he ripped off the Killiks, despite his vociferous objections. For our current purposes, though, think the Joker in a lab coat assisted by a female Alex Mercer, for some reason doing science totally unrelated to space in the middle of space. It was not a good start.
My character wakes up to cries of “Space PETA is attacking!”…what.  Apparently genetics is also cosmetics testing, because we’ve apparently got maniacs with laser guns popping open rabbit cages…in which live dozens of the rabbit from Monty Python. Chaos predictably ensues, and evidently I’m also the commander of the ship but not the captain because somehow this is my responsibility but I don’t have control over the ship’s marines. Now, my first thought was to just open the relevant sections of the ship to vacuum, and I’d like to parse the GM’s response in the form of a list.
Things This Ship Lacks:
                    1.       Airlocks
                    2.       Fire suppression systems
                    3.       Area denial internal defenses
                    4.       Thermal control systems
Because technology’s become so advanced that we don’t even need to worry about vacuum, let alone the laws of thermodynamics! Lacking any other option, Igor and I go toe-to-toe with them with what are basically hand phasers. Armor penetrating lasers? On MY spaceship? It’s more ludicrous than you might think. And yes, they drill through the walls like they’re tissue paper, matching Igor’s foot-long Wolverine claws.
At this point, a guy in a trenchcoat and dark glasses strides through the wall, and the GM’s eyes light up as he describes him. This guy is just so cool. Apparently this is Blackhawk, and he’s the first of the NPCs we meet. He’s all hard-bitten and gritty and only speaks in snarls about how he hasn’t got time for our bullshit and we need to step aside. Igor sneaks off after him and I start trying to coordinate damage control. She’s naturally detected instantly despite a really high Sneak roll, and Blackhawk is too cool to acknowledge her presence except to casually mention there’s a bomb in the reactor core.
Okay, so Space PETA’s now:
                    1.       A nuclear power.
                    2.       Able to enter a poorly defined “reactor core” that would burn any of us to cinders.
                    3.       Abandoning all pretense of rescuing animals.
                    4.       Invisible.
Incidentally, my first thought was to either SCRAM it (if it’s fission) or just power the reactor down under breakeven and let the plasma cool (if it’s fusion) to cool everything down and limit the impact of the blast. This is how I think, you see; I figure we’re in more danger from losing fuel to contaminated slag than we are from an explosion inside a reactor pressure vessel. Apparently this “isn’t that kind of reactor”; unlike every nuclear reactor ever built, it was apparently designed to go prompt critical if someone looked sideways at it. Bear in mind, the GM once opined that “nuclear reactors are just slow nukes”… and apparently we can’t just eject the totally uncontrollable, ludicrously unstable core because of the risk of contamination. Gotta keep that vast, lifeless expanse of interstellar space clean of fallout. (Disperseout?)
More Things This Ship Lacks:
                    5.       Intercoms to engineering
                    6.       Primary coolant loops
                    7.       Boron
                    8.       Escape pods
                    9.       Battery packs
And then Blackhawk nonchalantly walks into the core, grabs the bomb, and crunches it between his hands before chucking it into the ill-defined energetic matter flow, dusting off his hands as he leaves and shuts the hatch behind him.
So cool. This is kind of his schtick, you see; he’s immune to things because he’s powerful. This makes him a phenomenally boring character, really, because immunity is something you are, not something you do; this logic never caught on with the GM. It makes playing superhero games with him fun. Anyway, this paragon of XTREEM AWESOME COOLNESS starts strolling back, and I get to trying to figure out how to detect more maniacs walking through my walls.
Still More Things This Ship Lacks:
                    10.   Security cameras
                    11.   Airflow sensors
                    12.   Thermal imaging
                    13.   Microphones
                    14.   Tripwires
Because whoever heard of sensors on a vessel ostensibly intended to observe the universe? At this point, I think we can dispense with the idea of this being a spaceship. This is a box full of air in the middle of nowhere strapped to a bomb.
I eventually get some laser pointers because lasers are ‘sciencey’. They get duct-taped to the walls, along with photocells -- and so begins a long tradition of me reinventing the wheel with stone knives and bearskins because wheels are banned.

And then some idiot in a uniform comes through the wall, sees the sensors, and gets pissed at me. Apparently his guys need unlimited access to everyone in the ship to do…who knows what, but I’m offered a new job and an infodump.
See, the GM doesn’t like providing information through conversation. No matter how forced, there will be a lengthy period of exposition, because that way we avoid that hated “interactivity” thing and there’s no risk of missing needed information. Accordingly, we know going into any conversation we start that we will learn nothing, and we know that if we can question our infodump sources we won’t learn anything more than was in the expository paragraphs. It certainly speeds up interaction with NPCs…while reducing them to a level of intermittent interactivity that compares unfavorably with plot-unimportant Bioware NPC scripting. Then, too, the low-level NPCs all have the same personality. They’re all supposed to be the goddamn Batman, although they come across like The Coon: “dark” and “brooding” and entirely out of time to deal with us when they have more gritty navel-gazing to do, which is hilarious when “negotiating ” with someone who speaks entirely in snarls. Really powerful types get a whole new personality, which we’ll cover later.
For now, though, the M.I.C. is explained to us, and the real identity of Space PETA with it. Apparently they’re really Multiverse PETA, and these guys go combat them and anyone else that changes “canon”. The glaring implication that we’re all fictional is of course totally unaddressed. We either take the job or we get memory-wiped. More accurately, that’s my choice; Igor “hasn’t yet impressed them enough. At least you were ingenious”. Igor’s player, though, is clever enough to get the GM out of his plot-stopping conundrum, and just hops through the portal anyway, and they go with the fait accompli.
This is another of those things the GM never really grasped: players having fun at your table is more important than all your NPCs staying ideologically self-consistent. He’s pulled it when playing, too: he’s always the first one to say “I have no reason to go on this adventure”, usually in hopes of being bribed with treasure by either the other players or the DM. I’m not saying they have to bend over backwards to accommodate the players, but when you’re holding up a sign saying “you must be at least this cool to be part of the adventure”, it helps to at least tell the players what’s cool and not just trust them to stumble upon it blindly. Alternatively, if you don’t, let them come on the adventure anyway, since otherwise there isn’t an adventure. But then, that requires a modicum of respect for one’s players.
So we’re apparently not canonically needed enough to be forced back to our old jobs and are instead “processed” into the M.I.C’s service together with one other, whose origin needs to be told before we go into the ludicrous bureaucracy that is the Multiverse Integrity Commission.


  1. "he’s immune to things because he’s powerful."

    That reminds me of a question I had after the 'class' diatribe - does this system make _everyone_ invulnerable to everything if they get to be high enough level, or just the GM's pet NPCs? (Hah, I kid. As if anyone BUT an NPC ever reaches second level...)

    “I have no reason to go on this adventure”

    Oh, that one's EASY to fix. "Okay, you wait here. We'll let you know how it goes." (And when he tries to burn the setting to the ground solo out of spite, make sure he gets no more than 1/Nth of the GM's time, where N is the number of players. Fair's fair...

    1. More or less, yes, but the pet NPCs far more so.

    2. So humans who level up enough become Kryptonians. ooookay....

      Also, when you say the UnberNPCs came 'through the wall', to you mean through a hole, or they also leveled up enough to be Kitty Pryde?

    3. He is implying that the NPCs should not logically be able to be that stealthy and (sarcastically) rationalizing how they succeeded in doing so anyway must be magic powers.

  2. Thats not a ships. Its a piloted crewed trap. Or maybe and mine or bomb. But yeah definitely not a spaceship/station and definitely not a science one at that. But it still makes more sense than that bloody backstory.

    1. Nnelg aka GeordnetApril 25, 2013 at 10:31 AM

      And it's managed to hit several pet peeves of mine, the biggest of which is getting how anything "nuclear" works wrong in a stereotypical way. Then there's the worrying about "contamination" when the local star probably blasts out more radiation than every reactor in this universe of his combined (he doesn't seem to be the type to use Dyson Spheres).

      And there's really no excuse for not doing even a cursory level research on whether nuclear reactors can explode or not when his players probably know the answer. I mean, he could have at least made up some pseudotech "Explodium Reactor Core", then he'd be free to make up whatever properties he wants for it.

    2. There is actually a term for nuclear power that works kinda like he thinks it does, namely Nuclear Combustion Generator. Admittedly the concept, a coal/natural gas generator that uses lots of really small nukes to provide heat and gas, was so stupid that the it literally only got far enough to have a name.

    3. Yeah, his knowledge of reactors is complete horseshit. Prompt critical from damage to the core is complete BULL. "Really slow nukes," yeah, by about a factor of several billion. I really wish I had been paying attention to this during the session, I would have smacked him across the face, which I reserve the right to do being that this is my field. And if it's NOT a nuclear reactor, then it's still BS because NO space faring species is dumb enough to use reactors that can't take serious damage without consuming all their fuel in a glorious 9 nanosecond burst. FML.

    4. In the hypothetical situation that a reactor was damaged by any explosive, the effect would be largely to cause the fuel to get too hot and melt, which causes most of the reaction to stop, the opposite of what the GM seems to think would happen. The only way to actually cause a reactor to act in any way like a bomb would be a MASSIVE neutron source bombarding it and even then it wouldn't work very well.

    5. Even if there was a large external neutron flux, you wouldn't get a chain reaction (although there would be an explosion). But you'd probably have to set off a real nuke to get that many neutrons flying around...

      Honestly, the simplest way to get a nuclear reactor to explode would be to manually remove the fuel rods and build a bomb out of them. (You might need to do some additional enrichment first, though...)

      Oh, and that only applies to fission reactors. Fusion can't sustain itself without massive heat and pressure, which means the worst a fusion reactor can do is melt to slag.

    6. ^ Incidentally, that's the one thing that drove me crazy about The Dark Knight Rises.

      "You can't disconnect the reactor from its power source, it will explode!"

      No, Mr. Russian Physicist, it won't. I don't care WHAT you did to the fuel core, THAT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF HOW FUSION WORKS.

  3. Nnelg aka GeordnetApril 25, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    "And if it's NOT a nuclear reactor, then it's still BS because NO space faring species is dumb enough to use reactors that can't take serious damage without consuming all their fuel in a glorious 9 nanosecond burst."

    Well, I wouldn't go that far. After all, that description fits an Antimatter Bottle with only minor tweaking, and they're a staple of hard sci-fi.

    Any intelligent being will always choose the technology with the best balance of effectiveness, cost, and safety: if the latter has to be sacrificed for the sake of the first two, then so be it.

    1. Nnelg aka GeordnetApril 25, 2013 at 2:15 PM

      "Any intelligent being will always choose the technology with the best balance of effectiveness, cost, and safety"

      You know, it's this sort of concept that I think the Chief Circle could use some elucidation in. It seems to me that he sees things in one-dimensional better-worse scales, when in fact there are always two, three or even more factors to balance, with no one clear solution for everyone. (If there was, there wouldn't even be a question.)

      Concepts like cost-effectiveness and better/faster/cheaper would be good things to go over, I think. Oh well, that task is probably best left for some future employer to handle...

  4. I'm loving this. I'm the first to admit that I'm no science guy. So it's always refreshing to meet, if only vicariously, people who know less of science than me. That list of things that spaceships don't have had me in stitches.

    Also, your writing is great. Keep it up!

    1. Nnelg aka GeordnetApril 25, 2013 at 10:36 PM

      To be fair, the only thing on that list that a real-life spaceship has is an airlock...

    2. And the thermal control and batteries. Although something this amazingly "advanced" could do with basic security systems.

    3. "It's not stupid, it's advanced!"

      This is something that ZeRoller will complain about in the future: Being stuck with "advanced" technology/materials that are notably worse than what we have right now.

    4. I think it could be reasonably assumed a spacecraft with presumably artificial gravity (and the only defensive weapons powerful laser guns that melt through everything, along with everything apparently rigged to explode) would have a fire supression system as well..the technology already exists, but smoke detection is poor without gravity and automated fire suppression in 0G is awful enough that the ISS just has the astronauts use CO2 fire extinguishers...although even on the ISS they also have a contingency to just vacuum that section because airlocks exist, and bleeding all that air is better than it burning off.

  5. Isn't BlackHawk basically just Albert Wesker? Trenchcoat, constant snarling, get-out-of-my-way attitude… it all basically matches up, at least with his MvC3 persona.