Thursday, 5 April 2018

Kosmostrom: Synthicide Edition

Shortly after letting loose Kosmoström into the starless black void of space, I was contacted by Dustin DePenning at Will Power Games to see if I would be interested in doing a set of custom Kosmoström for his Synthicide roleplaying game. After taking a look at the game and the setting the decision was pretty straight forward yes. So...

What is Synthicide?

Synthicide | Hardback Rulebook
Synthicide Metal D10
Synthicide is a dark-sci-fi, tech-noir RPG set in a universe where humans exist on the bottom rung and the Synthetics - the practically immortal ai driven robots, at the top. The concept is worked through both the rules and the setting - food is scarce and becomes a focal resource, not only in acquiring it but also the effects of not having any. Gritty, not that the system is hyper-detailed, it just flows where the narrative focus is. A kind of post-transumanism prevails, where the machine consciousness and genetic engineering have lead to superstitious authoritarianism and galaxy-wide catastrophe, leaving a fragile humanity clinging on at the edges of the universe. Like Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader or Empire of the Petal Throne the huge spans of time between the present and the future brings us back to an almost recognisable place, but with Synthicide not to the faux-medievalism of 40k nor the multicultural antiquity of Tekumel, but to a cyberpunk infused '00s, familiar enough to easily slip into, but with layers and points of strangeness and the unknown to explore which keep things interesting.


The setting then has bags of old-school appeal, a downbeat 'pathetic aesthetic' to the heroes, murder-hoboes in space, it carries a rules light attitudes to stats, it's not a skill-based system, but also incorporates a lot of story-telling devices, like the twist mechanic, where subplots are generated on the fly to keep the story moving and the players on their toes,  and the Resolve / Cynicism system that works as a simple alternative, dynamic alignment system for motivating character driven role-play.   For people to like to hack systems, there is a small goldmine for simple and easily appliable ideas to take into other games.

Due to the dominant influence of the machine-god worshipping Tharnifex cult, spacecraft have no legal weaponry, there are brief rules for ship-to-ship combat, but not endless classes of military hardware and tables of zero-g physics - despite the space-travels similarity to Babylon 5 and Elite: Dangerous, space combat is not the real focus of the game, human drama and surviving in a cold, dead, machine dominated universe is.

Synthicide Adventuring Party

Overall I really like it. As a visual person, there isn't as much interior art as I'd like, but like OD&D what  is there speaks volumes, and the design is handsome, black and white with splashes of orange that underscores the austere feeling of the setting.

The universe carries an atmosphere which is undoubtedly it's own thing, a rough and ready, cyberpunk sword and planet.  I could pitch as an alternative Rogue Trader universe set in the Age of Strife, where the Adeptus Mechanicus with their Machine-God Cult and Men of Iron hold sway, mutants and failed Adeptus Astartes cloning programmes run amok,  Terra is lost to the warp, and proto rogue-traders doing dodgy deals, and hive-world gangs (minus the camp flamboyancy) jumping off-world in custom space craft. There are echoes of Blakes 7 starfaring crew of vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells pursued by obsessive cyborg commanders and Mutoids, but no Federation, and a healthy dose of Terminator dropped into the mix. There's something of Mike Pondsmiths Cyberpunk 2020, without the rock-stars, but with a slightly funky vocabulary - adventurers are 'Sharpers' and  the gangs and corporations carving up what is left of the free-space and the day-after-tomorrow technology mixed with advanced tech of a fallen Empire,  the pre-Empire Strikes Back las-sword and planet of the Han Solo Star Wars novels, all wrapped up in a hard-tech urban drone, grimey ambient dub noise , package (although that might just be me listening to The Bug and Earths 2017 opus Concrete Desert a lot whilst drawing it up).

Why a Synthecide Edition of Kosmonström?

The original impetus for Kosmonström was to design a hugely generic, clean aesthetic that in its iconic form could be used to . It's perfectly possible to use Kosmonström  for floorplans in Synthicide, but what Synthicide: Kosmonström Edition does is take the iconic white, hard-tech sci-fi world, and wear it down under a heavy patina of wear and misuse. A pervading atmosphere of decay and grit.

Hab-station Workshop, Kitchen and Bathroom
Arthur: Good grief! Is this really the interior of a flying saucer
Ford: It certainly is, what do you think?
Arthur: It's a bit squalid isn't it. 
Douglas Adams - The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (Radio Script)
While Kosmonström took inspiration from Red Dwarf and the Nostromo from Alien, it took their graphic standards and reimagined them as factory fresh, gleaming product of some intergalactic shipyard - not the aged, distressed and malfunctioning versions we see on screen. With Kosmonström: Synthicide Edition this layer of lived-in wear was reinstated, and opportunity to revisit similar themes:
And in the back of my mind Zion, the ramshackle, make-shift Rastafarian satellite colony in William Gibsons Neuromancer. Or, perhaps if Kosmonström in some ways represents The United Federation of Planets, Synthicide Edition is the Terran Empire, a stained dystopian mirror held up to the optimism of scientific progress. Of course, there's no reason not to mix and match both sets - pockets of high-tech luxury appear in the Synthicide universe, as do abandoned underground habitats, which could use Planström.

Beyond the purely aesthetic charms of evoking crumbing spaceship interiors with lots of tiny lines, Kosmonström : Synthicide Edition also provided opportunity to further furnish and express the Synthicide setting. 

Small Cargo Storage Facility

One major aspect of building the Synthicide universe is the addition of labeled Cargo covering the main types of trade goods, useful in-game for loading out ships with specific cargo types, so it's possible to create a floorplan of your sharpers clipper and represent or keep track of the cargo. These stick much to the typogtaphical standards set down in Kosmoström . Using Cargo in tabletop encounters allows them to feed into narrative play - to be damaged by misfires,  reducing the value of a ships load, stolen,  broken into or infected. The Cargo tiles utility as tokens can be increased by noting the purchase cost on the reverse in pencil, making trading record keeping simple. 

Airlock, control room, low orbit cybernetics lab and storage facility.

Another aspect is developing and expressing significant narrative and world themes of  Synthicide  through the 'furniture' or 'clutter'. One of the main themes is the scarcity of human food in a largely machine dominated universe, so there are tiles for kitchen units, camping equipment, storage and communal eating areas, as well as lavatories and washrooms that increase the verisimilitude and emphasise the gritty, down at heel atmosphere promoted by the game. Alongside servicing the daily biological needs of human existence,  there are  spaceship control panels, cybernetics workshops. Many of the tiles are designed to be multi-purpose - a coffin shaped machine could be a Cold Storage unit, an ancient technological device keeping a human from before the cataclysm in suspended animation, or equally be used as an escape pod, a robotic arm could be a spare part from a robot or an icon indicating cybernetic parts.

[ZHU] Industries
 Kosmoström: Synthicide Edition

Kosmonström Synthecide Edition is avaliable now from DriveThruRPG,

Synthicide RPG from DrivethruRPG and print editions from

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