[Hypertellurians] The Journey Towards the Vanished Sun

So … the title states Hypertellurians, but it’s … really not. Hypertellurians is rayguns and fantasy in space. Beautiful art that screams 70s Sci-Fi.

It’s Battlestar Galactica, He-man, John Carter of Mars, Barbarella, and Blixt Gordon with a hint of Conan and Frazetta. It’s OSR, but I’m not so much for the hexcrawling game style, so I’m leaning more into the intrigues in Battlestar Galactica, Deep Space 9, The Foundation, The Expanse, and She-ra … with a hint of Conan. My initial thought was to play on a big “spaceship”—kinda like Rouge Trader but with a colossal spaceship.

Basically, there are three types of intrigues layered on top of each other: one for cosmos, one for the spaceship, and one for the kingdom that the characters belong to.

The whole ordeal will focus on culture gaming through collaborative storytelling, meaning we’ll endeavor in cultures that the whole group will create on the spot.

The Principes of the Game

For the players For the game master
Adventure drive Use the right language
Setting and tone buy-in Keep up the narrative
Support other players’ character concepts Be a fan of the players and their characters
Playing the leader Make everything about them
Failure is fun Delight in emergent gameplay
Signal intent Don’t hide the adventure [behind dice rolls]
The answer may not be on the character sheet Say yes
Don’t ask for permission, or character knowledge Fail forward
Violence may not be the answer Be open about the stakes (side effects)
Take actions and risks Ask questions
Focus Delegate roles sometimes
Talk to one another Watch player planning carefully

I asked the players to read the pages, pick one of the headlines, and point out why they thought this was important to highlight. I did this mostly to get the players to read all headlines, to get everyone the same page. Both how I’m going to game master, but also how we’re going to do collaborative storytelling: make everything about the characters, be a fan of the characters, don’t ask for permission (make make things up), signal intent, ask questions, delegate roles, creating the correct setting and tone…

We had a session zero, where we talked about the setting while we also created the setting. I told them my plan that we would create a world, explore it more together while we create more pieces of it through play, and we’re going to cut half into “a season.” We’re not going to “reach an end”, but instead acknowledge that we had a fun time and cut it after a few sessions, satisfied with what we created together. The focus isn’t on completing a quest, but on moving around in the strange environment and cultures.

The Game System

Hypertellurians is a light d20 system that comes with abilities, affinity (like, natural protection), powers, levels, and equipment handling. The powers are mainly in the realm of “a bonus to something” and not really my type of game design because when you can summarize all powers with “+2 to something”, all descriptions will be a waste of paper. I wanted the players to get into the collaborative storytelling mindset, and I will do that by creating a much smoother core mechanic that still acknowledges the game’s principles.

  • Choose an archetype: alien, beast, construct, revenant, royal, ultranaut. These are the archetypes from Hypertellurians.
  • Come up with a concept: based on the archetype.
  • Distribute ability points: Put 9, 10, 13 on the three abilities Brawn, Agility, and Mind. You may decrease one value to increase another.
  • Add 1 affinity: Each ability has 0-3 in affinity. It both decreases the damage taken and affects the healing rate. Affinity is basically a form of control.
  • Choose three powers: Each archetype comes with two free concepts, and Hypertellurians also have general powers and powers specific to an archetype.
  • Choose a drive: From one of the following themes: “arcane knowledge, enlightenment, exploration, faith, forbidden knowledge, justice, loyalty, revenge, influence, strength”. The drive should be described as a short-term goal.
  • Choose a weakness: something that will be noticeable in play.
  • Make up some equipment: Hypertellurians also provide equipment from the chosen drive. However, equipment will mostly be regarded as “cosmetic”—descriptions of actions rather than something that solves a problem.

All situations will be handled in three different ways: 1) no dice rolls, 2) dice check, or 3) conflict. A roll is made against one of the three abilities, and the roll succeeds if it’s equal to or lower than that ability’s value. If the player can motivate the use of a power (which they almost always should be able to do), judging by the name of the power alone, they may roll 2d20 and choose either. Otherwise, they roll a simple d20.

  1. No rolls are made if there are no conflicting forces or if the players have obtained something that will automatically make them succeed, like getting a hold of someone.
  2. Dice checks are made if anyone can come up with an interesting side effect. The side effect will always happen unless the player buys it off.
  3. If several steps can be considered to overcome the situation, like a variety of enemy types or breaking into a mansion, then it’s a conflict. Each step demands that the players do either point 1 or 2 above. A large monster is regarded as having several enemy types, like “setting the city aflame” or “blinding laser eyes”.

The players can buy off a side effect by either a) checking their power off or b) taking as much damage on the ability they used as the single digit on the die. Rolling a 6 results in 6 damage, or rolling 14 results in 4 damage.

If the player has an affinity (0-3) for an ability, it will subtract from the damage taken. Each ability has as many hit points as its value. If the damage is filled up, the remaining damage will flow into the “next” ability, and the player needs to roll on a trauma chart in Hypertellurians, and if two abilities are filled up, then it’s time to roll on the table for critical trauma.

A checked power can’t be used for mechanical reasons—adding an additional die—until unchecked. Of course, the player can still describe actions as using a checked power.

Each point in affinity will, for each new session, heal 5 damage or uncheck a power. So 2 affinity will either uncheck two powers, heal 10 damage from any ability, or heal 5 and uncheck one power.

There are no modifications. A situation is considered “hard” if several rolls are required, i.e., a conflict.

Session re:0
Each session begins by asking if the characters should evolve. This can involve changing weakness, choosing a new drive, changing equipment, or changing abilities if the player realizes the numbers don’t suit the character concept. The group can also agree on leveling, which means that the character either a) gets +1 on an ability, b) receives another affinity, or c) receives another power.

While playing, they will gain access to equipment and new contacts and learn more about the world as a consequence - a “reward” - for their actions. Note that the players don’t get anything for playing on their weakness, or fulfilling their drive. The reward is in itself - to play it out. If it’s not fun for the player, they should change it so it is fun for them.

There should also be talk about how the group is upholding the principles of the game, especially the tone. We agreed in the group to take turns and point out one thing especially that we liked the last session.

The game system honors the principles “say yes”, “fail forward”, “be open about the stakes”, “don’t hide the adventure”, “signal intent”, “take actions and risks”, and “failure is fun”.

The Characters

After we brainstormed the world (which will be described in the next upcoming post), it was time for the players to create characters. There was talk about them while we created the world, so the characters basically created themselves. The players also came up with powers of their own, with discussion with the rest of the group.

Machine Master, Your Royal Highness, Prince Burtolomeo of Bartolomeo II
Pampered steampunk mechanoid from a future dimension

Brawn 13 (affinity 1)
Agility 10
Mind 9

Drive: find the compass that will guide Burt to his home dimension
Weakness: thinks the world revolves around him

:: Powers

  • Steam powered
  • Grace
  • Lightswitch (attracts the luminescence creatures onboard the ship)
  • Bullet time (his clockwork parts controls time)
  • Ignorance is a bliss

A cloning facility onboard resulted in an ape society that now demands freedom. Regards Burt as his prophet, despite the other prophets the apes have found.

Brawn 8
Agility 11
Mind 13 (affinity 1)

Drive: find a larger helmet for his ever-growing exposed ape brain
Weakness: his emotional centre is too overwhelming - beast rage

:: Powers

  • Feral mind
  • Natural born killer
  • Sensefull
  • Brainztorm! (shoots brainwaves)
  • Underground knowledge

The underlying concept is Jeeves and Wooster, in which the butler does all the work.