Monday, November 15, 2021

The SCP RPG: A Critique of 5k+ Words

 Buckle up, folks, it's time for a ride.

Prologue: Bona fides and bias


I was a reader of and contributor to the SCP Wiki for several years, and it remains close to my heart even though I don't keep up with it anymore. If it's past the 3000 contest, I haven't got a clue, but for the time before that...

 


(Precisely what contributions I made I am electing to keep anonymous for now. All that's relevant here is that I spent a great deal of time on the site Back In The Day, I wrote quite a bit (some of which was popular and some of which was actually good), nothing I wrote is featured in this RPG, and for the time being I would like to keep old online identities discrete.)


It Begins


The SCP RPG by Jason Keech is, at best, a catastrophic misunderstanding of what makes a fun tabletop game, what makes the SCP Wiki engaging, and how to adapt the latter into the former. Less charitably it is obvious grift, taking advantage of a popular Creative Commons license to make a quick buck of of people who either haven't heard of Delta Green or for whatever reason don't think it suffices for the job.

It might be the worst game I have read thus far. Not for moral reasons (I have read far worse), maybe for mechanical reasons (I don't think I have read worse) but assuredly because it is a butchery of something near and dear.


A Note Regarding Anticanonicity


The wiki has long operated under the maxim "there is no canon." This is not entirely true - there are dozens of recognized canons (5+ linked works with 3+ authors), hundreds more if we count single-author storylines, and a longstanding tradition of headcanon over all. But there is no overarching, singular canon. The contents of an article or a tale go exactly as far as the end of the page - beyond that, interpretation and re-interpretation is wide open. Characters can be drastically different between authors. Connections between articles often only go one-way.

A ttrpg adaptation can go one of two ways: a specific interpretation, or a generalist toolbox. This one tries to do both, and it fails at both. You'll see what I mean as we go along.

Onwards, the book.


Once the tables of contents and the backers are out of the way, there is the famous message from the Administrator. This has been a standard piece of Foundation lore for ages, the statement of intent for the in-universe organization, and I have never liked it. It's terribly self-serious and not particularly well-written, but it's short and it gets a point across, so it's popular.

(A recurring theme: there is a VERY big difference between the Scipverse as it is conceived of by the writers and the Scipverse as it is conceived of by the outside fandom. So it has always been.)

(Note: you will see me use the word "scip" constantly in this review. It just means "a spooky thing that the Foundation wants to lock up"

Chapters are organized according to "security level"

I'll let you in on a secret: security levels, sites, blackboxed procedures, that's all trade dress. It rarely ever means anything. All it does in nearly every circumstance is give the text the illusion of the conspiracy.


Chapter 1: Basic Rules


Variable-size dice pools, take sum of two highest and compare to difficulty rating. Exploding dice are applied if you roll maximum, by adding a die one size higher to the pool (so rolling 8 on a d8 gets you a free d10). but if you roll any 1s, those are all subtracted from your final sum. Once you have that, you add your proficiencies, which are measured in decimal points, to that sum.

So, for example, if I have a pool of 4d10 for an attribute, and roll 1-2-6-10, I get a bonus 2d12 for the exploding 10 (let's say a 1 and an 8), 8+10 for my highest two dice, minus two for the ones, plus 0.7 for a proficiency, final roll of 16.7)

Decimal points. You read that right. I have never witnessed this before in any ttrpg and I do not want to ever see it again. Unfortunately, my desires do not apply here.

Chapters 2 & 3: Character Creation

  1. Assign 20d8 across your eight attributes (Strength Health Perception Dexterity Fate Charisma Intelligence Willpower)
  2. Assign 4d10 to those attributes, but you can only add a d10 if you have 2d8 in that attribute.
  3. Buy your proficiencies. Level 1 costs 1 point, Level 2 costs 3, Level 3 costs 6.
    1. You get 17 points for Knowledge Proficiencies, plus 5 for each d10 in INT and PER.
    2. You get 14 points for Skill Proficiencies, plus 5 for each d10 in STR and DEX
    3. You get 10 points for Ability proficiencies, plus 5 for each d10 in CHA and WIL
    4. For each proficiency you purchase, roll a d10: that's the decimal point value.
  4. Calculate your substats - they will be determined by the die types and the number thereof in your attributes. Substats are HP, Exertion Points, Cognitive Resistance, Reverence Points, Melee Multiplier, Projectile Modifier, Reaction Defense, Move Speed, Intelligence Modifiers.
  5. Choose appearance, body type, and reasoning. These have bonuses and maluses to certain proficiencies and substats.
    1. Yes it is exactly as bad as you think it is.
    2. If my character is Beautiful, they get +2 negotiation/persuasion, +1 Fashion/Etiquette, +1 leadership, -2 Resist Distress, -1 intimidate/Taunt, -1 Disguise / Blend In.
    3. At the very least they don't limit body types to appearances, you can be Beautiful and Heavyset if you want. The latter gets you +15 HP and +2 Reaction Defense
  6. Then you fill in the details that name no mechanics, name and whatnot. Backstory goes here.
  7. Ref gives you what they need to start the mission; intel, equipment, starting personnel class and clearance level.

Step 8 is not mentioned, so I will add it in - return to step 1 because your character died, because this game and this setting is a meatgrinder and you are playing as the nameless jackboots in the unmarked vans (incorrect, the vans will be marked with a front company with some silly S-C-P initialism. I actually fucking love this and suggest you do it in home games, just have a van for Sanderson and Cole Plumbing show up.) and you died immediately on contact with the weird thing.

Yeah, remember the weird things? The whole point of this exercise?

It'll be a while.

Why would you make a game about being the operators operating operationally in operational operations when those are the people whose entire narrative purpose within the scipverse is to die horribly via Worf Effect. MTF dudes exist to die horribly. That's why they're the unnamed jackboots.


Chapter 4: Pointless point systems


Herein is explained how you spend experience points on more attribute dice, increase proficiencies through training, and the THREE other types of points (Merit, Reverence and Exertion).

Merit and Reverence are basically the exact same thing (rewards for RP), just worded differently. You spend them on some bonuses too.

No weird stuff has yet occurred.


Chapter 5: Combat


This chapter begins on page 42, and ends on page 68. I did not read it. While skimming it I saw that it had horrible would tables like, but not as good as, Emmy Allen's in Esoteric Enterprises.

There is a subsection between chapters 5 and 6 about personnel types and security clearances. It is about as fetishistic about useless details as one would expect. I thought we were here for monsters.



Chapter 6: Weapons and Items


There's a price list for mundane items split up into discount/premium. Why there is a price list for a game about playing an organization who has Plot levels of budget, I do not know.

There are long lists of item loadouts for different specializations. They are boring and you are guaranteed to forget what you have on hand. The shortest one is 25 items. The longest one has 65.

Then there's a example of play chapter, shoved in between item loadouts and the weapon lists.

The weapon lists are split into security clearance levels and...

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhh

It is at this part that the book starts to collapse upon itself. Security Level 1 weapons does not then lead into security level 2 weapons, but instead a description of the bonuses you get if you purchase 3d12 in a stat, and then that leads into a very poorly formatted section on morale, which leads into staff titles and examples of Foundation sites and a literal example site directory and hierarchy and then mobile task forces and field symbols pulled from someone who made them years ago, that are entirely too good for this game.

And then we're in chapter 9. I had to go back and make sure that chapters 7 and 8 actually exist. They do, but by god do they seem to vanish in the whiplash.

An aside: it is, honestly, super-disheartening to see this sort of thing, because it's like...is that it? So many people, myself included, have poured so much time and effort into that site and the takeaway some folks have is that the useless details are important.


Chapter 9: Anomalies


We are on page 114, page 114 of 292, and we have finally reached the actual point of the setting.

In a move that I will give one (1) golf clap for, this section provides an overview of field procedures - discovery of an anomaly, how to identify its properties in the field, what to do in a contact situation, capture and transport. It continues on to containment back at the site but if you are playing field agents your job stops at drop off.

This section is the first part of this game that is conceptually appropriate for the act of playing a game in the Scipverse. If you are field agents, you are going to be out in the field. Making a literal SOP document is a fun diegetic way of giving players a plan of action, and refs ways to play around with that. If cleaned up (a lot), this could actually be the centerpoint of a functioning game.

Then we get to the anomaly classification system.

This I cannot fault the writer of the RPG for, this is taken from the site.

Now, in ye olde dayes, you had three classes. Only three there were, and the number of classes was three. They were unintuitively named, but easily summarized.

  • Safe - Stick it in a box and you're fine, it won't get out.
  • Euclid - You need to regularly check in on the box and do regular maintenance.
  • Keter - It requires continuous and costly effort to keep it in the box.

(There are also Neutralized, Explained, and Joke. These are self-explanatory.)

Around the time I stopped reading, there were a few nonstandards that were being introduced.

  • Thaumiel - Used as a box for another scip.
  • Apollyon - Ha ha ha, you thought the box would help you?

It seems that in the years since there has been an introduction of an expanded containment class which I am not against in principle (since, you know, the old three only tell you how difficult it is to keep in a box, not how dangerous it is.) This new system has containment class (6 classes + 7 esoterics), disruption class (5 classes) and risk class (5 classes) now this could get a bit clunky and unwieldy, but it's not unmanageable.

Except for the fact that they took the nonindicative class names of the olden days trio and made them worse.

A disruption class of "will effect a few people" is VLAM. What the fuck is a VLAM. If I am scrambling through a filing cabinet trying to find what this thing does what does VLAM benefit me? Nothing! It is useless! Unfit for purpose! Awful and clunky to read and I am very glad that it appears to have not caught on to a majority, but it's still caught on more than I'd like.

Thank gods above and below for anticanon. Toss this right out the window. What are you doing, wiki, why are you doing this.

Old man yells at cloud.


We Are still in Chapter 9: Anomalies


Here we have the Security Level 2 items section. Did you know that you need to be security level 2 to have a helmet? Now you do.

Also, it's time for RPG GUN FETISHISM! My...third? Fourth? least favorite kind of RPG fetishism!

Not only can you quibble over the minute stat differences between a Glock 19 and an M1911, you can compare them to a katana! Which...I mean if you are replicating a certain era of the site that is perfectly above board and I won't harsh your mellow, but I feel like it is appropriate to bring up.

We'll be returning to this. For whatever reason, likely a bad one, the equipment list is split up into multiple parts and distributed across multiple chapters.


Special Section: Groups of Interest


I have been very hard on this book so far. That is a prologue to this section, which is where on initial read my opinion went from "this is poorly made" to "this is grift" and my ability to charitably critique it evaporated. I'm still going to, mind you, just grumpily.

See, the Foundation is not the only power that be in the Scipverse. The scope, importance, and number of these other groups of interest varies by interpretation (all hail anticanon), but regardless of that they serve two important narrative roles - they are (mostly) human antagonists that can stand against the Foundation (if not on equal footing, at least on grounds that the Foundation can't absorb or destroy them), and they provide alternate viewpoints about the anomalous world and how to interact with it.

Alternate viewpoints, that players might like to engage with. As a TTRPG uniquely allows the audience to do.

This book copy-pasted the article from the wiki. An article, I might add, that is only updated when new GOIs become established, and so older entries don't actually reflect how things are used in the wild. There's no sorting either, so groups that are limited to one or two minor canons will end up getting equal billing as some of the OGs. Alexylva University, a GOI whose entire shtick is "college in another universe keeps losing its mail in ours", gets half a page, while Dr. Wondertainment, who has a couple sizable storylines and quite a few more related articles, gets two sentences that explain basically nothing.

Now, in certain circumstances and lenses I could see the logic behind the overwhelming focus on the Foundation. Specific vs generalist interpretations of the setting. But for a tabletop game (the most variable, wide-reaching and adaptable genre to adapt into) and for a setting that is literally built around "the only viable interpretation is the one you make with these toys in the sandbox" I think it's a major oversight. Still, I suppose that the narrow focus to Foundation-only could work.

The more substantial issue here is that because this is copypasted from a janky reference page that is missing a whole lot of information, this section is useless from a game perspective. It contains no guidance on how they might be used, as PC options or antagonists or anything. not even "here is a bullet list of scips related to this GOI you can read on your own". So someone who doesn't already know these groups and have a developed headcanon about them to draw upon is up shit creek and paddling with their hands, because this books is absolutely no help in that regard.


Chapter 10: Reality


A chapter about some esoteric bits of lore that are a welcome break from the unceasingly generic content that has come before. Things like how the stability of reality is measured in units called Humes and you use a Kant Counter to measure them, and sometimes if shit really hits the fan you can get a Reality Anchor to forcibly revert things to normal.

I remember this being contentious when it was introduced, as it was considered to easy to abuse and too much of a get out of jail free card. Years prior there had been 148 (TelekilI) that was used similarly, and nerfed in a rewrite to have horrible side effects. In moderation, I like Humes, they're a fun bit of flavor.

This chapter also includes a little bit about reality benders, memetic hazards, another gear list (security level 3 this time, so now Adam has authorized the use of the grappling hook and an AK-47)

There's a run-through of amnestic classes, which could have been a half page table but is spread out over multiple pages because of course it is copy-pasted.

What really gets me about the security clearance stuff for weapons is that the higher someone's clearance is, the less likely they are going to ever be in direct contact with a scip in the field. Sure your lab tech with level 3 clearance can, by the game's rules, use an M16, but in what circumstance would they every use one according to the rules? They're a researcher back at base overseeing experimentation. If they have to use a gun, it's an emergency and they will use whatever gun they can find.


Subsection: Another fucking org chart


There is another fucking org chart here. It's better than the first one so, you know what, I am not against the idea in principle. In principle. Not here.

There is also the clearance level 4 equipment here, which is straight-up weird science goofy nonsense and a complete tonal break from the entire scipverse. There's an entry here for "phaser", which could exist in the setting...as a scip, and thus locked up. I mean I can imagine some experimental plasma or laser weaponry, that's not beyond my ability to believe, but again - I am long past the charitable read.

There is also a master weapon list. At least, all the weapon lists in one place. Like they should have been from the start, for convenient fetishization.

It's not weird that there's so much focus on weapons in this game, plenty of bad RPGs have overly granular weapon systems. But it's strange that it's for this setting. "Bigger guns will not help you" (unless it's the Sun Launcher, of course. Into the fiery orb with ye!) is very much part of the setting. It is filled with problems that cannot be solved with bullets. Most of the problems, in fact, cannot be solved with bullets. What good is a gun when the threat you are trying to contain is a jar of toenail clippings that fuck with causality?

Violence is more the Global Occult Coalition's department anyway.


Chapter 11: Director Guidance


Sections on how to award XP, all those other points they give out, and some general advice which...isn't all that bad. It's actually pretty okay. There's a section addressing the multicanon, there's a section on using Session 0 to establish boundaries of what people don't want to see, that's good. Necessary for this setting. Well done.

There's even a random scenario generator, which I also like, because it's basically "roll a random scip, roll for what you are doing with it, roll for complications." Combine that with that other section I liked however many chapters ago and you have a nugget of okayness.



Chapter 12: SCP Creation


How to stat up a scip...using the same obtuse and horrific system used to generate characters. I was going to make a demo example but that is giving this game much more than it deserves.



Chapter 13: SCP DATA


AT LONG LAST, WE ARE FINALLY HERE

Like Moses leading his people out of Egypt we have finally fucking reached the land of weird shit that we signed up for. It's bestiary time, baby! These entries (usually) have a statline (ech), a description (not copy-pasted, thank you!) and a short paragraph on how to use in game.

This is page 198 out of 292. We have finally reached the thing we are here for.

Let's see how things stack up.

  1. SCP-001 (When Day Breaks) - There are multiple 001s (authors use them as capstone projects, basically), and this one is...certainly a choice. It's a good article, but it is also an article where the sun murders everyone and there are horrible fleshbeasts wandering the wastes as the people temporarily safe in bunkers wonder what the fuck to do. Opening a bestiary with "here is a campaign setting" is certainly a move. It's more actionable than some other 001s so it's not a terrible choice. Better than Gate Guardian, for sure.
  2. SCP-002 (The Living Room) - A classic, always fond of this one. Use in-game would be limited, I think.
  3. SCP-049 (The Plague Doctor) - I can't stand this article and I do not understand why it is popular, other than the fact that children like it because some Youtube screamed at it once. It's actually an okay pick for in-game, though. Creepy dude with a bunch of zombie servants.
  4. SCP-073 (Cain) - Very odd choice, because he's a friendly NPC and immune to harm (all reflected back, naturally). Still has HP, though. 850 HP on this guy. A handgun will do 3d6.
  5. SCP-076 (Abel) - Here's where things are starting to get iffy. Abel is one of the flagship scips. Not featuring him would be really weird, honestly. But Abel is an instakill. You will be gibbed. His entire purpose is to stick bladed weapons other people. His sword does 12d10 damage. In-setting the way people deal with him is A) do not ever let him out of his sarcophagus B) detonate bomb collar so that he has to waste time respawning C) use a tank. If you have individual, boots-on-ground level characters dealing with Abel-as-written, they are dead. Roll new character.
  6. SCP-096 (Shy Guy) - THREE THOUSAND HP. The highest single damage weapon is a heavy artillery piece, which does 6d12 x 5 damage, so even rolling perfect, impossible max damage on a fucking missile launch, you have done less than a 10th of his health because he has 100 points of damage reduction! Also he has multiple attacks per turn that do 10d12 damage. Averageing that out, he can do 60 damage per attack. It would good to mention here that your base HP is 10. The maximum can get over 100 I think if you dump everything in health and that still won't save you from turn 2. All this bullshit makes sense for Shy Guy, don't get me wrong, because the entire deal is "if you see its face or a depiction of its face it will hunt you down and kill you, no matter where you are", but at that point it's an unfun environmental hazard, an instakill gotcha trap. Holy shit. What is this game.
  7. SCP-106 (The Old Man) - Another very famous instakill monster. Sensing a theme here.
  8. SCP-303 (The Doorman) - Finally, a choice that doesn't even have a statline. Creepy thing behind a door. Not much to 'im, but could be a fun little encounter or a containment puzzle. I like 'im.
  9. SCP-354 (The Red Pool) - love this one, excellent choice for a game. Big old creepy as blood red pond that spits out monsters and is growing. We tried a submersible and weird shit happened. Yes, please and thank you.
  10. SCP-444-JP (Dreamscape) - A article from the Japanese sister-site, that's nifty. A cognitohazard type deal, traps people in dreams and so on. Issue here being that, again, it's like a single-effect trap. Once it's sprung, okay, now what? That works for the article but not for a game. It's a cursed item.
  11. SCP-662 (The Butler's Handbell) - Mr. Deeds! if you have the bell, he'll do whatever you need within his power. Remarkably good assassin. Write-up points out how it'd be a big threat in the hands of an antagonist, and they are very correct.
  12. SCP-682 (The Hard-to-Destroy Reptile) - We all knew it was coming, let's get it out of the way. Big, angry, will kill you near-instantly, hard to destroy. NEXT!
  13. SCP-939 (With Many Voices) - It's an alzabo. Took me over a decade to realize that it's an alzabo but it quite literally an alzabo, except it hunts in packs and the juveniles look like humans. Will likely make swift work of you but you can play around with the voice mimicry to fun ends.
  14. SCP-1128 (The Aquatic Horror) - Another infohazard. Eventually kills you, makes you really hydrophobic until that point. A curse.
  15. SCP-1470 (Mal0) - An app that makes a monster show up and lurk around you. Harmless, though. Guess you could do something creepy with it...if you were civilians who downloaded the app.
  16. SCP-1472 (Multiuniversal Strip Club) - There are velociraptors in maid costumes doing burlesque. Why they are statted, I do not know, because they're fucking velociraptors are you gonna harass them? But it would be a fun location to hang out in and see the other weird corners of the scipverse.
  17. SCP-1678 (Unlondon) - Dark underground mirror or London filled with creepy inhabitants and whatnot. Would be good for an escape, honestly. Wouldn't want to get trapped down there.
  18. SCP-1762 (Here Be Dragons) - i love the article, but it's not really even interactive enough to justify its position in the bestiary.
  19. SCP-2006 (Too Spooky) - A comedy scip. Shapeshifting energy being wants to scare people, is terrible at it, best way to keep it in one place is to have people pretend that they are scared. This one could be fun for a session.
  20. SCP-2057-JP (Rehatchlings) - Another Japan-branch article. Reincarnating baby chicks. I guess it's okay? i mean the description buried the lede that there is an enormous one of these inside the moon so they are probably way more interesting as an article.
  21. SCP-2265 (Dinner With Andrew) - A timeloop scenario. Fair enough.
  22. SCP-2273 (Major Alexie Belitrov) - Alternate universe Russian supersoldier with bug-power armor. Great concept, the book specifically says to use him in non-combat circumstances. Good advice, honestly.
  23. SCP-2999 (The Black Cat and the White Rabbit) - All I know is that this one is very complex and I never sat down to read the entire thing. I am quite sure that the writeup in this bestiary is not sufficient.
  24. SCP-3000 (Anatashesha) - We have reached the end of my first-hand knowledge. Here on out, it is unknown territory. This is a 900 kilometer long eel with mind-altering chemicals that don't get enough specification despite being the most useful part of this. At least it doesn't have stats.
  25. SCP-3008 (The Infinite [REDACTED]) -The redacted is Ikea, it's an infinite Ikea. I mean it could be fun trying to find the exit, but it's not like you're given the means to make that encounter easy to run or fun to play.
  26. SCP-3300 (The Rain) - A town that, once a year, has an anomalous storm and the complete replacement of its population with new people. Could be cool, though I don't know, in game at least, what you would even investigate.
  27. SCP-3739 (Mind Milk) - If I had a nickel for every scip that involved spontaneous generation of udders and subsequent lactation, I would have two nickels. Which isn't a lot but it's weird that it's happened twice. Could probably get an extra nickel if we count 597. Like was this a rewrite of that one in the 600s?
  28. SCP-3999 (I Am At The Center of All That Happens To Me) - Entirely too complex for a pithy summary for a game book.

And that's it. 28 chosen, several of which are a level of inappropriate that beggars belief. We could have had more, if the GOIs were treated as worthwhile at all. but they aren't, so we are stuck with one of the best sources of weird shit to exist reduced down to this.

It would have been great to just cut the system entirely and just have a book of scips and ways to use them in a game that already existed.

Chapter 14: NPC Data


Statblocks for a lot of generic professions that have no bearing on the Scipverse. No GOIs or their members to be seen, not even a whiff of a Broken God tech-cultist..

I have heard that this creator made a "Creepypasta RPG" using basically the same mechanical system. I think this was ported over from that.

Chapter 15: Site-093


A sample Foundation facility to use. Helpful! Has NPCs, but not the kind you can plug and play yourself, they're your bosses. Less helpful.

Chapter 16: The Black Glass Labyrinth


A sample adventure. I did not read it, because as you no doubt can tell from the tone this has taken over the last half dozen chapters, I am tired.

So yeah. We're done.

The Wrap Up



Game bad. Play Delta Green instead. Its issues are microscopic in comparison. Or better yet, Liminal Horror. Or Esoteric Enterprises. Or Mothership. Anything at all.

The Actual Wrap Up

I was talking with a friend just last night (from time of writing, not posting) about the olden days, and how it's kinda depressing looking back and thinking "oh wow something I wrote years ago still crops up in the wild now and then, but next to no one who reads it, proportionally speaking, knows or cares that I wrote it. Most of them don't actually read it, and those that do often miss the point entirely, and the entire consumption of the text is purely the superficial layer. No one outside the core nugget of reader-writers cares about the context, the style, or any sort of narrative analysis of things."

You see this a lot with the Youtube channels about the site: they'll do an overview of the scip, but they are dead-set against engaging with it as a text with a context and a creator (oh you are LUCKY if they actually cite the author outside of the CC-required attribution buried in the video description) and anything beyond what is directly presented. And tales have ALWAYS been neglected compared to the mainlist; onsite, offsite, on the periphery.

Sure, sometimes a spooky monster is just a spooky monster, but it's nice to talk about something and talk about why it is spooky and how it got there.

This entire RPG is based in that attitude. Just the superficials. Gun porn and org charts and instakill monsters are what's important. And you know, that's fair. I don't like it, but everyone can have their headcanon and whether or not I or anyone else likes it is irrelevant.
 
But if you're going to do that, make it personal. Stamp your name on it and say 'there are many like it, but this is mine.' That is in the spirit of the site. That is, I am certain, what's kept it alive and active for all these years - the intended experience is DIY. It is poorly served by an interpretation that lacks the desire to be very personal and refuses to give people the tools to make something of their own.
 
The wiki is broad and deep and very flawed and a surviving bastion of web 2.0 and its calling card is an invitation to explore. To go down the rabbit hole. That's always been a strength the - that initial rush of clicking on random links and finding something new behind every door, of piecing together this puzzle in your head until it fits comfortably like a glove, and even when the ennui sets in and the years go by and you are so jaded that nothing impresses or scares you any more, there are still moments where you go "yes! there it is again!" and you're once again chasing rabbits.

To translate that to tabletop, you need both freedom and the tools to use it properly. Mechanics won't help you. There needs to be one more door, one more lonely hallway, one more tattered manila folder. There needs to be the space to put the pieces together and build something of your own.

Not a fucking gun list.



37 comments:

  1. 5k words in two days is a good feeling and I wish it happened more often.

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  2. I've found that it's quite easy to use SCP content in other rpgs, I've used it as inspiration for more than a few encounters, and I've had them show up in a game of Dread.

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    1. Absolutely. Just stick the vending machine somewhere and you will have guaranteed entertained players.

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  3. Perhaps it's the spooky power of the SCP, even diluted through this horrible RPG and excellent review ... but reading this it's like drifting in time, unmoored from the present!

    It is 1993 again, I am a teenager and some sad sack in rancid jeans has been dragging his van load of books, printed at great expense from con to con finally washing up on the Western shore where he's pegged me for a mark. He wants me to buy his glorious and soon to be successful game, he made it himself, he produced it himself, his dreams compressed into an tome of unruly size printed on the most dubious of pulp. As I turn away, ignoring the coffee stink of his frantic words and still clutching my $20.00 destined to be spent on Citadel bits, I can sense his heart breaking, again, shattering along well worn fractures.

    How's that for strange terror! An actual fantasy heart-breaker! Loose in 2021! It's like the clone of Bill Clinton seizing power or the Stone Temple Pilots releasing a hit single -- incongruous howling from deep time.

    Thanks for the review.

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    1. 1) I had a coworker once who was "trying to see if WotC or Blizzard wanted to pick up his game", which as far as I could tell was binary pass-fail situations involving skills in the tens of thousands.

      2) Drifting in time, unmoored from the present is honestly the summary of my relationship with the site now. I remember something and go "oh god how long ago was that half the fandom probably wasn't even BORN when I got into it"

      3)I agree that a true heartbreaker is a special thing. Save me your passable games, your mediocre ones, your good-enoughs. Give me such horrors that slouch toward Bethlehem to be born. Such wonders to see.

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    2. Have you ever stumbled across the Iron Sky RPG?

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    3. I have not. What manner of secret lore does it contain?

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    4. You are not prepared. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1815087115/iron-sky-the-roleplaying-game/posts/2818136

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    5. You are correct, I was not prepared whatsoever.

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  4. I think my eyes started bleeding at the rules bit.

    That RPG That Uses Decimals And Excessive Exploding Dice Bullshit is probably an SCP-type horror in its own right.

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    1. SCP-XXXX is a hand-written document currently consisting of 45,731 looseleaf pages containing rules documentation for a tabletop roleplaying game. Item is capable of self-proliferation under unknown criteria. Maximum size unknown. While previously thought to possess cognitohazardous effects, subsequent investigations have revealed that it is simply very poorly written.

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    2. At some point it would, obviously, grow so large that it would start forming coal seams.

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  5. In retrospect it should probably have occurred to me sooner, but reading this made me realise that an SCP game should probably be something like Paranoia.

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    1. Friend Overseer has a task you urgently need to complete, to stop those rascally Serpent's Hand communards!

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    2. I'd think structurally similar to Paranoia, but with a different moment-to-moment tone. Bleak/black comedy where the surface is utterly serious rather than the wackiness of Paranoia.

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    3. Given the amount of mind-altering / perception-altering SCPs this is a fine idea. Give the PCs a list of duties and tasks ostensibly from Authority and see if they can deduce from context clues which are delusions, illusions, or Really Bad Ideas. Every list has "Do Not Obey SCP-X's Instructions" written at the top. Task Priority 1 is always "Release SCP-X from Containment."

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  6. The decimal points thing is absolutely nightmarish.
    Delta-Green style gun porn is really an awful fit for the setting, as is, honestly, working for the Foundation. I feel like a Wanderer's Library-based setup where you play as a merry gang of superwizards and anartists trying to punk government containment bodies without dying would be a better way to make an SCP RPG.

    Anatashesha is absolutely worth your time if you want to check it out.

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  7. Decimal points is bad, yes. But “20d8” was when I truly recoiled in horror.

    Dude… just say 90. Or, you know, 80 + 1d20. You’d actually get a swinger distribution.

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    1. Since it's a dice pool mechanic, that's 10 discrete d8s, so you're assigning them, rather than rolling them.

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    2. Right. That makes more sense. I mean, for what it’s worth.

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  8. Dan,
    I enjoyed reading your critique! I commend your ability to harness fire and brimstone to fuel your writing (which is as great as ever).

    I will say seeing the Liminal Horror mentioned at the end made me pretty excited. Your writings were a huge inspiration to me when developing it so i find it exciting to see it mentioned let alone recommended as an alternative for play.

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    1. Oh, cool! Glad to be an inspiration. Liminal Horror hit a sweet spot of "hack of games I like", "genre I like", "nifty tables" and "features Lady Dimetrescu".

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    2. You’re the first to pick up that reference…couldn’t help myself.

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  9. Thank you for pinpointing in words my impression of disappointment and disgust for this book.

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  10. Agreed. SCPs and associated organizations are for stealing and putting in other games when players have gotten jaded IMO, and even then only judiciously.

    I got the impression that the categories were
    Safe: there is a known effective containment strategy that can be done with existing technology
    Euclid: It is reasonably certain effective containment strategies are possible along logically inferrable lines and principles which we are pursuing.
    Keter: It is unclear that effective containment strategies are compatible with human consciousness/human flourishing. Ineffective strategies may be the best possible option.

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  11. The most gameable thing on the SCP site is the Game Day series. It's a collection of stories about Foundation agents conducting secret operations against the various other groups of interest and getting into skirmishes and monster fights and yeah you know what it's just Delta Green.

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  12. A few of the listed ones have been locked or removed or something. I like Bung's lower-key Foundation. Still awful but seemingly less insta-kills.

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  13. Sudden thought, Fighting Fantasy would be a better basis for an SCP RPG. Skill (how well you do things) Stamina (how fast you die) Luck (how you survive when things go bad). All generated with under 3 dice. Replace PCs as needed.
    Advanced Fighting Fantasy with a small skill list if complexity was needed.

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  14. Do you... need a system to play SCP: The Game? There's a "Random SCP" button right there on the website. I figure that is 90% of the heavy lifting done.

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    1. The parts most worth dedicated RPG material - Nexuses, Humes, Kant Counters, Reality Anchors, the GOIs, the high level multiuniversal bullshit - are the parts that get no play in these sorts of attempts at a game, because they're all tied up in Tales.

      Of course, dealing with a game at that scale means you are well beyond van with a logo power level and need to completely revamp what the point is.

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  15. I actually do like the idea of security clearances, even if they weren't done well here - much like Unknown Armies' three levels of play.

    It lets more grounded takes on the Foundation live alongside the gonzo ones where the whole universe is created and destroyed on the regular, and it gives a route for the PCs to slowly learn just how bad things really are and feel that they've grown in power at the same time as they shift to a more "Foundation agents armed with skips and who are frequently anomalous themselves" take on the Foundation. Doesn't sound like this was actually done well, though, sadly.

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  16. The big question to me is: Why make character creation so in-depth (and use such a complicated, detail-oriented system) when characters are going to (quickly) die anyways? If you're gonna go high-lethality, high-stakes, don't stat individual guns and don't pretend that there's gonna be a differnence between your guy/gal having 10 or 12 HP.

    Also, I'm pretty sure it's not only fetishistic to make enormous weapon-lists of marginally different guns, but to make sure your system uses at least six different types of dice. Hate that.

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    1. That remains the biggest mystery for me as well, and the biggest piece of evidence that this game was never playtested, or if it was that they were deliberately avoiding combat. Which makes it all even more confusing.

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