Been a busy week working on the tables that underpin a lot of what I’m working on with Malmart to give you a sense that you literally can get anything your campaign needs.
I’ve cranked out a little over 2,000 words just for the tables. Having these things blocked out, there’s a lot of areas where the game can go and there are elements that allow you to draw from outside tables as well. That makes the 5+ million drones number a underestimate on my part, but that’s a good thing.
In terms of progress on the book, it’s about 40% written and there’s enough for me to fly through the ads for the chapters I’ve done with the tables.
Okay, so as you probably aren’t aware, I’m a huge numbers nerd and I love having a plethora of options. It’s not because I plan to use every damn combination possible in a game system. It comes down to one simple truth that bothered me to no end when I was younger: forced limitations.
Now, while I know in an RPG this isn’t as big of a deal, in many games, the options available in open-world design are prohibitively limited. I understand that a lot of this has to do with how space/memory constraints affect what can be included in a box or a computer program. In my younger days, I chafed at this like nobody’s business.
Okay, so I still do, just not as much. Happy now?
To avoid feeling constrained, I tend towards games that let me experiment with different combinations, which provides hours of fun with failure and head scratching. So, when I write sourcebooks that have a universal theme or can be applied to practically anything someone needs to develop, I really go hard on the tables.
The multiplier effect is what makes this such a huge deal for me. With even a modest number of choices, you can take a system of 3 tables with two options each and create six to eight options–assuming no selection in two tables is an option.
The tables in Malmart work like this. So do the tables I wrote for Cosmos Builder and Castle Builder Reforged. I did this with a single goal in mind: I shouldn’t be the one dictating what choices you have. Roleplaying games are story-driven and the rules are dictated as much by the setting as the engine, if not more. To that end, I work to build tables that give numerous options.
Case in point: the modular housing system I created for Malmart generates 900 rooms, but the configuration possible explodes that number into some extremely large numbers when you can put those 900 rooms in six adjacent positions for the first room and then each other space has five or four remaining spots open to fill. And, given that the typical self-contained home needs at least three spaces, (living area, kitchen, and bathroom), You’ve just escalated the combinations to more that 6,000.
This brings me to the drones section I’m currently laying out. There are six tables used to define the drones: primary programming module (currently ten options), hardware platform (eight options), size (seven options), drone quality (six options), drone upgrades (currently forty-seven), and drone downgrades (currently ten). Four tables require a choice, the upgrades/downgrades are optional. Some options can be selected more than once, but ignoring that for now, you can make over 1.6 million drones (adjusted to account for conflicting combinations).
Imagine the numbers when you add weaponry and additional programs the drones can access. This means your options approaches closer to the trillions range.
If that’s not enough choice for you to tailor the gear to the game, I have no idea what else to include for you, but there’s plenty of examples for designing new options for your game.
Cyberpunk is a genre that relies on a lot of details to communicate a world at once strange and eerily familiar–a world that we know is right behind the corner given the prevalence of technology in our lives. This is deliberate and forces the reader to ask some damning questions: how much humanity do we retain if we let the machines dictate how we live because of our own choices to let them do the hard work for us?
Malmart 2090 is no different in this regard. If you’re familiar with my previous building guides, you know I like to develop a lot of tables–seriously, a lot of tables. I’ve used this technique for Malmart not only as a way to help me price items that do have ad copy, but also to give the reader the tools to create thousands upon thousands of objects to fill their game world to overflowing.
Just look at the screen captures from Blade Runner I’ve included here and you’ll see insane levels of detail. Visually you take this all in and your brain tells you everything you need to know. But, guess what? You can’t get away with that in storytelling. Nope. Nada. Ain’t going to happen. You know why? Because everyone’s seen this damn movie already and if you don’t add details that makes it stand apart while adhering to the genre, you’re dead in the water and nobody’s going to be impressed or remember a damn thing.
Harsh, isn’t it?
Well, that’s cyberpunk. It’s unforgiving and humanity’s been reduced to an insignificant mass while being the biggest thing in history at the same time. This dialectic needs (dare I say wants) resolution. Do we just shrug it off and join the nameless ranks; or, like our devices, do we rise above and become one of the few destined to change the course of history?
The overwhelming amount of detail is crucial to capturing the feel of the genre in ways that might not stand out right off. Why do you think William Gibson spent so much time in Neuromancer detailing how brutal and shitty street life was? There’s a reason the opening line describes a sky the color of a
television tuned to a dead station. That visual tells you everything you need to know about how bleak the world is and the grotesqueness of the sky back when cosmic background radiation filled our TVs with slushy images of neutral colors and a roaring hiss.
Ever stop to ask yourself why so many of the signs in the city streets are in Japanese in what’s supposed to be Chinatown with a hodge-podge street language cobbled together from a dozen or so others for a film that came out in the early 80s? No? Well, if you didn’t, you’re not thinking this out. It has everything to do with what the Internet means today and what not having a global network did to how artists depicted the future before the advent of the World Wide Web that allows you to access this blog from any point on the globe with a connection to the global village.
And then there’s this little gem:
Why is there fire and an entire cityscape reflected in Harrison Ford’s eye? Because the eyes, being the windows to the soul show how much humanity has consumed itself just to find an ounce of solace in this monstrosity its created. The soulessness of the bleak urban landscape is constantly in search of something to consume. It burns with desire and a deep search for meaning that isn’t there anymore because it’s been replaced with material goods to the point of crowding out every aspect of nature.
There’s no balance.
To replace it, there’s replicants out the ass in this film: people, animals, toys that think they’re alive, ads selling dead dreams in the guise of a better tomorrow. All of them rendered as empty shells of the things they represent. Platonic forms desecrated until the illusion of safety is reflected in the mirror. That’s what’s in his eye and throughout the film, and thus the lingering question of whether Deckard is human or not. Even his name is a twisting of Descartes and hearkens back to the brain-in-a-vat problem.
Everything is magnified to excess in cyberpunk. It’s too big to take in at once. That’s why the level of detail is so friggin’ high. You want to know how to solve this dilemma? Examine the finest of details, that’s why the eye is so important in that one, brief scene at the beginning of the film. It, and the Voight-Kampff machine zero in on that one feature above all others while we, as viewers try to take in the entire aesthetic.
Authenticity, then, is captured in the minutiae. It’s these little details that let people find ways to stand out and be different. For this reason, the snake scale becomes enormously important. It at once authenticates the world and shows how bereft and full of debauchery (or “sin,” if you prefer) the world is. Hence the Adam and Eve reference with the snake. The garden was the balanced world where urban and rural landscape meshed and escape was possible, which is why at the end of the flim, what do you see, Deckard and Rachel fleeing the terror of the cyberpunk world for the unknown of a “lost” paradise in green wilderness.
So, while the overwhelming number of choices in Malmart might seem excessive, they give you the ability to replicate the feel of the dystopian world of the genre. And that’s why some of the tables generate more choices than you’ll ever need, like well in excess of 100,000 electronic devices. Because everything’s a plot device and the biggest change can be contained in the smallest item. Just like the snake scale’s serial number.
Malmart’s shaping up nicely. The rough for the furniture DIY tables yield over 16,000 pieces of furniture, art, and decorations for homes. For most games, this is probably more detail than you need, but if you’re looking for maguffins, well, here’s maguffins aplenty. Besides, how else do you give the idle rich and the most powerful corporations in the world the dressing to show just how powerful they are with exquisite objets d’art, original masterpieces, and the prized art relics of the past?
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Degas, a Goya, the Mona Lisa, or a Ming vase. These things denote status, not to mention culture. And for the privileged of any society, these are the items that separate one class from another. They also act like trophies. What connotes wealth and power? They have no physical form, so how do you display them?
Now, compare these items to what you’d find in the home of the average cyberpunk character living on the edge or even the middle class.
Yeah, it’s been nearly a week since I last posted anything. Mainly failed to do anything because I overstressed my hand and my carpal tunnel acted up something fierce. The pain is still pretty bad in some ways. If I twist my wrist the wrong direction or grip something wrong, it sets off the pain worse than any strenuous exercise activity feels. At worst, the pain will be in my shoulder (and often I hope it’s just a dull ache that feels like I’ve thrown one too many objects) and my forearm feels like someone is beating it with a baseball bat. Needless to say, it’s not fun. That said, I’ve been plugging away at my notebook and the keyword outlines for the DIY tables in Malmart.
Okay, so I’ve been plugging away at Malmart and a lot of it hasn’t been shared here, to include the progress of my research and where I am in regards to the word count, etc. So, let’s fix that.
I’m still working on it and I’ve finished up the rough outline for the clothing tables. I’m adding those into the book and it’s beefing up nicely and the number of options makes this an awesome edition for your Interface Zero games. The combinations possible has climbed a bit, but not to the point of exponential growth, you could still design every possible creation, but that’s a lot of time and effort.
Also, while this has been going on, I’ve been fleshing out the tables for housing. There’s a excessive number of options here and it’s probably a bit of overkill, but when it’s completed, you’ll have tens of thousands of housing choices for characters and set pieces. Of course, this is more of a background option for your game, but there’s more to these options than I’m letting on at the moment and that’s because I’ve been holding out some info regarding other chapters of the book where said tables may have more or less of an impact on the options available for further gear.
So, I got asked to churn out roughly 1,000 words about a bit of history for Interface Zero. I’ve been handwriting it as I go because, well that’s how I do my drafts usually. It’s about done and so is the rough for the custom clothing section in Malmart. Next up is the housing section’s custom charts. Probably won’t be as many choices just because housing is intentionally nebulous so you can plop a home wherever in the world your setting takes place. It’s the furniture (another chapter) where the options really open up.
On the off chance you have been paying attention to the status bar for whatever books/chapters I’ve been working on. You’ll notice that Malmart got a huge jump in the last week and some change. That’s because I’ve been laying out the basic Malmart ad copy for the book’s chapters. The next step is to start sketching out equipment and some company services with their own personal ads for the catalog.
At this stage, I’m going to have to go back to the research and outline phases to generate more material and ramp up the word count to even higher levels. I’ve been cranking out 1,000+ words a day. Currently, I’m just over 9,000 and it’s time for me to start working on tables for generating customized gear.
Just a quick post since I’ve spent most the day doing writing on the Malmart Catalog and plan on doing some more (2,064 words and counting!), but I got the proof for Republic of Texas and it looks great! I can’t wait for you to be able to get your hands on this supplement for Interface Zero 2.0. It’ll be released on DriveThruRPG.com on Tuesday.
Well, back to the salt mines. Maybe I can turn out another 1k today!
Okay, I know that might sound weird as a title, but I just spent nearly 700 words on the subject of algae for Interface Zero 2.0. The last thing I thought I’d ever do was write an entire section of game material, with plot hooks no less, on the subject of what’s essentially pond scum.
If I pulled it off, this has to be one of the most metal things written about algae for a setting. I’m sure that shouldn’t be street legal.