Super Suit: Alpha Draft

January 1, 2011

This is the game I’m writing and currently playtesting for Emily’s RPG Solitaire Challenge. It is a work in progress and will be updated regularly until it is finished. As per the contest rules, it is written in plain text, which is why the headings are a bit weird.

You are the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy. But can your high-tech super suit protect you from the mindless horrors dwelling deep beneath this alien world?

**SUPPLIES**

You’ll need some six-sided dice, index cards, tape, and whatever drawing or crafting tools most excite you.

**BACKGROUND**

Roll on the following tables for the overall premise of this adventure.

WHO ARE YOU?

Roll two dice for your name (or choose):
1 – Beth 1 – Arctus
2 – Joney 2 – Brazen
3 – Keller 3 – Fox
4 – Rachel 4 – Phantom
5 – Samantha 5 – Texico
6 – Winifred 6 – Turin

WHERE ARE YOU?

Roll two dice for this planet (or choose):
1 – Absalom 1 – III
2 – Celebes 2 – B
3 – Crynox 3 – Nebula
4 – Kipler 4 – Omega
5 – Nazer 5 – Prime
6 – Zendri 6 – Royal

WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?

Roll one die for your motive (or choose):

1 – the horrors left you an orphan (decide how) and you want revenge (decide what)
2 – they’ve abducted someone you care about (decide who and how you know)
3 – this is your last big job (decide what) before you retire (decide where to)
4 – you crash landed here (decide how) and need a way home
5 – you’re searching for a legendary treasure (decide what)
6 – you came here with a team (decide who) but now you’re all alone (decide how)

DAYDREAMING

Once you roll your background, spend a little while daydreaming about your character, the planet she’s on, and why you’re here. Once you feel like you have enough to really sink your teeth into — ideas that inspire you and gives you a strong sense of purpose — then you’re ready to play. If you need to, roll your background a day or so before you begin playing, so you can think about it in the shower, during your commute, and in your dreams. You can even write it down if you want, but this is for nobody but yourself.

EXAMPLE BACKGROUND

This and later examples come from actual play of this game.

(name roll: 2+5; planet roll: 1+4; motive roll: 2)

Joney Texico, bounty hunter extraordinare, is venturing into the god-forsaken hell-hole that is Absalom Omega, searching for her vat-mate and one-time lover Edgaras Rokk. Ed and Joney were both spawned in the cloning vats of Absalom IV and trained to be soldiers in the private army of its small-time pirate queen, Lady Tyrene.

The entire Absalom system — and Tyrene herself — was ravaged by the deep horrors over a deca-count ago. Joney escaped and turned merc, figuring Edgaras was dead until she received a garbled transmission from Absalom Omega — a uninhabited hunk of space rock — as her arc skimmer passed through the now-dead cluster.

She said she’d never come here again, but here she is: back in Absalom. So that dipstick Ed better not frakkin’ die before she can save his ass from the deep frakkin’ horrors. Swear t’ Lady Ty.

LEAVE YOURSELF PLENTY TO EXPLORE

When you think about the background of your bounty hunter, this alien world, and your mission, lean towards words and concepts that are provocative and strange rather than exhaustively descriptive, leaving plenty of things that you are interested to explore over the course of playing this game.

If you look at the example above, there are ideas about vat-grown soldiers, private pirate armies, a supposedly dead pirate queen that Joney still swears by, a planetary system totally destroyed by the “deep” (?) horrors, Joney and Ed’s history as “one-time lovers,” the mysterious garbled transmission, and several other things that are the seeds of future discoveries — open-ended ideas to be explored in play — rather than cold, hard facts or an extremely detailed account of everything that’s going on. Even Joney’s ship, an “arc skimmer,” is an undefined but flavorful concept. Why is it called that? I don’t know. Let’s find out!

Vincent Baker, in his game Apocalypse World, calls this particular trick “leaving yourself things to wonder about” or “playing to find out what happens,” which are two ways of basically saying the same thing. In this one-player game, there are no other players to surprise you by doing things you wouldn’t expect. Consequently, it’s important to leave blank or mysterious spaces in the game for your own imagination to fill with unanticipated details as you play, surprising yourself. We can call this something like “leave yourself plenty to explore” or “play to discover.”

**INITIAL SETUP**

Play begins with you and your super suit already on the surface of an alien world.

THE MAP: AN OVERVIEW

Over the course of play, you are going to map out your journey beneath the surface of this planet, fighting and evading the horrors while struggling to complete your mission. Your map is made by taping together index cards and then using pencils, markers, paper-crafting materials, or whatever you like to fill the index cards with alien terrain and deadly horrors.

In old school video games, terrain is often measured in “screens” — what you can see on your TV, without moving your 8- or 16-bit avatar around. Each index card in your map works basically the same way, showing a single room or a stretch of corridor or a section of a larger space.

THE LANDING SITE AND SURROUNDING AREA

To begin mapping, take an index card and place it front of you (either horizontal, vertical, or even at an angle) to serve as your starting location: the landing site.

Then, take another half-dozen index cards and attach them to the first with tape. I like to tape them on the back, so the front is free for writing and drawing on. Attach them vertically, horizontally, at angles, whatever you like, but, after assembling them, illustrate a basic map of your starting location on the surface of the planet and the general area around it, marked out by these cards.

The rules of this game assume that your map is drawn “from the side,” showing a vertical cross-section of the terrain. Other kinds of perspectives, such as top-down, might also work, especially if you are strongly inspired by first-person shooters, in which lateral movement is more important that vertical movement.

If you are drawing a classic “from the side map,” which these rules recommend, imagine your suit as being about as tall as the first joint of your thumb, using that to determine the scale of your drawing.

At a very minimum draw the ship that brought you here, in whatever condition it is currently in. But also think about what the surface of this alien planet looks like. Is it rocky or muddy or wet or icy? Is it dark or brightly colored? Is there mist or strange auras? Maybe pick an overall color scheme or visual style for the surface and stick with it until you move deeper into the planet.

Also consider adding one or two “story” elements related to your motive. Why are you here? What needs to be here to begin telling that story? How should you begin hinting at future threats to come?

You should also decide roughly what type of monstrosity the horrors are, to give the feel that they are related to each other. Perhaps later you can encounter different types of horrors, so really you’re just deciding what the horrors you initially encounter will be like.

Spaces in-between and around the edges of cards are either currently inaccessible — such as behind walls, underground, high up in the sky — or are the directions in which you will soon explore, gradually moving deeper and deeper below. You might even want to consider leaving some blank spaces — where potential secret areas might be — around the starting location.

No matter how you landed on this planet (safely, crashed, were attacked, etc.), you are currently in a relatively safe place with no horrors or other imminent dangers in sight. Indeed, the game will never tell you to draw horrors at your landing site or the surrounding area. As such, it is the only truly safe space on this entire danger-filled planet. (You may, of course, choose to invoke certain rules and put horrors there yourself, but that’s your own fault.)

YOUR SUPER SUIT

Your super suit is a marvel of advanced technology, some of which you don’t fully understand. Take a new index card and draw your suit. Make sure to leave it relatively simple at first, because you will add new capabilities to it over the course of your mission.

You begin with a single energy tank attached to your suit somehow (draw it). Due to incredible efficiency, this tank can be filled to 99% capacity. Energy is necessary for sustaining your super suit’s life support system in this alien environment and having your energy tank drop below 1% leads to sudden death.

Your suit also begins with an arm cannon (draw this too) that, like the energy tank, is supremely efficient and only drains your energy reserves 1% for each shot fired, giving you 99 shots at full energy capacity before the suit shuts down. As you continue your mission, you will learn ways of copying the energy signatures of the horrors themselves, giving you new weapons as well as giving you access to areas the horrors have sealed off from outsiders.

You also have some sort of passive suit tech that is useful in moving about the terrain and evading the horrors. Examples include: suit-assisted jumping or running, radar or heat vision, basic climbing equipment, etc. Pick one, draw it on your suit, and mark its maneuvering bonus as +1. Unlike your arm cannon, evading doesn’t expend your energy reserves (for now). Fancy, energy-intensive systems like anti-grav and grappling lasers can be acquired later on.

Your super suit’s energy tank can be replenished in several ways:
– passively absorbing the energy haze left behind by vaporized horrors,
– being refilled at a special pylon or energy station, and
– gaining additional energy tanks, each subsequent one also charged 99%.

YOUR FIRST EVAC PYLON

Before you depart into the unknown, draw a high-speed transfer pylon in your current location, either as part of your ship, equipment you brought with you, or something you rigged together (decide from what).

As you continue your mission, you can always issue the “emergency evac!” command and your suit will instantly teleport you back to the nearest pylon, either this initial pylon or another pylon you’ve discovered or built along the way.

(If you — the player — are need to pause or quit playing before you’ve reached a natural stopping point, calling in an evac to the nearest pylon is a good option. Then you can continue from that “save point.”)

Your starting pylon is among the most stable pylons you will encounter on this planet. In addition to serving as an evac beacon, visiting your original pylon will re-charge your suit’s energy tank(s) all the way back to 99%. In your mapping system, mark this pylon as special somehow.

EXAMPLE SETUP

Absalom Omega is a rogue moon from one of the planets that the deep horrors flat-out destroyed, now sailing alone in the dark without anything to hold it to an orbit. Imagine one of the frozen, volcanic moons of Jupiter or Saturn, with an icy surface but a liquid interior that sometimes breaks through and geysers miles into the void. Very little atmosphere to speak of.

Joney doesn’t want to risk landing her ship on the surface itself, since the weight of her skimmer might break through the surface ice — now partially melted by her thrusters — and send the ship down into the liquid interior. Instead, she finds a former geyser that has re-frozen into a massive icy spire, settling her skimmer into a large, cavernous opening part-way up the peak.

This section of the peak, then — the cavern, the skimmer, any other things within a few cards of here — serves as Joney’s starting location and “home base” for the mission to save Ed. Now it’s time to lay out a few index cards and begin sketching out the skimmer and the cavern.

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/map-start1.jpg]

Joney should quickly find some sign — maybe even here in the cave! — that Edgaras Rokk might actually be here, so she’ll press on when things get tough. This cavern on the spire seems pretty prominent, an obvious enough landmark that another ship might have landed here. So there are some tracks that a shuttle’s landing gear made in the ice — probably some time ago, according to the Joney’s sensors — but the shuttle itself is long gone.

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/map-start-skimmer.jpg]

The horrific frozen faces on some of the walls of the cave.

Decide that the horrors are wraith-like. Are these the deep horrors or the tormented souls of those killed by them? Possibly the latter, but I’m going to keep an open mind and endeavor to find out during play.

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/map-start-faces1.jpg]

There should also be a more human element, but something mysterious, something to wonder about. So there’s a single boot, like the boot of a space suit, lying here under a few layers of ice. What happened to the person who wore this boot? Why would someone take off a boot here, when their foot and the rest of their body would instantly begin to freeze solid?

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/map-start-boot2.jpg]

Joney’s “not sexy” super suit (with a smaller version, proportional to the map), inspired by the bulky spacesuits in the movie “Sunshine,” directed by Danny Boyle.

Chooses special climbing textures on boots and non-cannon hand, allowing her to cling to various surfaces as long as they are not sloped past vertical. No hanging from the ceiling then, but otherwise very useful, especially starting from this icy spire.

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/suit-start1.jpg]

An ice wall, with handholds carved into it (based on the suit’s climbing gear), and Joney’s starting pylon.

[https://corvidsun.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/map-start-pylon1.jpg]

**INITIAL EXPLORATIONS**

EXPLORING THE LANDING SITE

Imagine the immediate aftermath of the landing and your initial reconnaissance of the surrounding area, up to the point where your bounty hunter decides to venture into new territory, beyond your initial cards.

VENTURING DEEPER: CARD BY CARD

Each time you venture deeper, begin by attaching a blank index card to your map, creating a new area to explore. You should orient the card as makes the most logical sense, based on what you’ve already decided about the terrain in this part of the planet. However, then following the instructions below.

Based on how dangerous you think this area should be choose or roll 1, 2, or 3 options off the following list (start with rolling 1 die and then ramp it up or back down as the map and pacing seems to demand):

1 – reorient the card strangely, in a way that you wouldn’t expect
2 – an exit is (pick one): out of reach (1 die), behind a barrier, or the floor collapses
3 – begin/end hazardous terrain (1 die)
4 – add a standard hatch
5 – add a lesser horror
6 – add a lesser horror

When you see “(1 die)” in parentheses that means roll a die to set the difficulty of maneuvering past that particular terrain, getting to the out of reach exit or moving past the hazardous terrain.

You can combine the following results, if you like:
two standard hatches = one advanced hatch (requires a special energy signature)
two lesser horrors = a greater horror (see Xenology section below)
two hazards or out of reach exists = (2 dice) difficulty

Gain XP from travel:
– passing through a card (1 XP)
– going through a hatch (1 XP)

Going through a hatch gives the surviving horrors and energy haze from vaporized horrors time to coalesce or repopulate the part of the map you just left.

FIGHTING HORRORS: RUNNING AND GUNNING

– you always get the drop (acting first) unless the horror says otherwise
– choose to engage or evade
– evade: they attack; roll your evade dice and see if they hit; if you are not hit at all, you can bypass them, otherwise, start over (choose engage or evade)
– engage: you attack first (decide how many shots to fire, normally 1-5); some creatures can evade; if they are still alive, they attack, you roll evade
– creatures’ toughness is simply measured in the number of hits they can take before expiring; your normal arm cannon normally does 1 hit
– each hit from the horrors damages your shielding and depletes your energy tank:
—– standard hit: 1d6%
—– hard hit: 3d6%
—– power hit: 5d6%
—– mega hit: 1d6x10%
– individual horrors also have their own (exception based) special abilities that can change this basic structure
– likewise, you can gain special weapon upgrades that change this basic format
– boss fights are somewhat different in that you cannot evade the fight completely, but evasion can be a good strategy in individual rounds, to conserve energy and wait until the boss has lowered its defenses; it may also be important to destroy components or minions of the boss before tackling the boss itself

Roll to recharge slightly after the room is clear. Once for each lesser horror, twice for each greater horror, and according to the specific rules for even stronger enemies:
1 – nothing
2 – nothing
3 – 1d6% energy
4 – 1d6% energy
5 – 3d6% energy
6 – 1d6 ordinance

Gain 1 XP for killing lesser horrors, 2 for greater, and according to the specific rules for even stronger enemies.

FINDING NEW THINGS: SPENDING XP

After you’ve rolled to place a new index card on the map, but before you’ve begun drawing the card’s contents, you can spend XP to add the following:

5 XP – secrets and information
5 XP – enter a new type of terrain (typically through an elevator or hatch)
? XP – missiles and other ordinance
? XP – set up a new pylon (also soaks up all ambient energy and prevents the creatures from respawning)
? XP – suit upgrades (improving your maneuvering dice)
? XP – mini-bosses (have to buy this at least once before you buy the next boss)
? XP – new beam weapons (only once between bosses)
? XP – additional energy tanks (only once between bosses)
? XP – a boss (with however much terrain you need for its lair)

FAST TRAVEL: HOLD DOWN X

Once your super suit has mapped out an area, moving back through it is much quicker than your initial explorations. This can be useful when backtracking or when returning to a dangerous new area after an emergency evac has brought you back to more familiar — and hopefully safer — territory.

Roll one die for every 5 cards you are fast-traveling through (or choose):
1,2 – lose energy: you take some damage or shoot some horrors
3 – you expend some resources
4 – you gain some resources
5,6 – you regain some energy

You should combine the following results (adjust this scale):
multiple losses ups the energy expended (-5%, -15%, -35%, -60%)
multiple resources ups the amount lost (-2, -5, -9, -14)
multiple regains ups the energy restored (-10%, -25%, -45%, -70%)

Note, however, that fast-travel can sometimes lead to compromised seals and instant death if your super suit’s energy reserves are already low. Be warned.

**XENOLOGY**

This is a list of example horrors you might encounter. Please invent your own to supplement this list, based on the nature of various sectors of your planet and the secrets you uncover.

LESSER HORRORS

Mind their own business. Provide 1 XP and 1 die of energy.

GREATER HORRORS

Pick as many as you dare (tough and strong you can pick multiple times):
– spawn point (they keep coming if you stick around)
– malicious (can’t be completely evaded, only killed)
– seekers (if evaded, they follow you, but not through hatches)
– tough (it takes another hit to kill them)
– strong (they inflict harder hits)

For each one you pick, they provide +1 XP and +1 refresh roll.

MINI-BOSSES

Cost N XP to trigger.

Provide N XP and +5 refresh rolls.

BOSSES

Cost N XP and XYZ conditions to trigger.

Provide a crap-ton of XP (which can’t all be rolled into the next boss, because some of it has to be spent immediately on upgrades) and +10 refresh rolls.

OTHER HORRORS AND HAZARDS

Sometimes you’ll come across something in your adventures that doesn’t easily fit the rules defined here, so just make it up to the best of your ability, given the basic guidelines here. The “field cannon” in the example, described below, may be useful as a model.

EXAMPLES

Wraith (lesser horror, 1 hit, 1d6 attack, flying)

Field Cannon (dark machine, immobile, 2 hits, no attack, hazardous [2d6] arcs of energy emanate from it, destroying it destroys the teleportation portal it generates)

Boss: ???

**ENDGAME**

After you’ve destroyed at least three bosses, you can decide to trigger the endgame at any time.

FINAL STAGE: HEART OF DARKNESS

FINAL BOSS: THE DEAREST ONE

EPILOGUE

Re-establish contact with other people, but sit a while in silence, reflecting.

**SPECIAL THANKS**

– Emily Care Boss and the “Solo Game Contest” (for the excuse)
– Nintendo’s “Super Metroid” (for the premise)
– Amtrak’s Empire Builder, Chicago -> Seattle (for the time)
– Tony Dowler’s “How to Host a Dungeon” (for the mapping)
– Rob Donoghue’s “Two Guys with Swords” (for the hook)
– Luke Crane’s “Burning Wheel / Mouse Guard” (for the shooting dice)
– Vincent Baker’s “Apocalypse World” (leaving yourself things to wonder about)

6 Responses to “Super Suit: Alpha Draft”

  1. Jackson Tegu Says:

    Though the gaps leave a lot unexplained, this looks really promising and fun. And the “planet name” table could also be used to name mixed drinks. Useful.

    I especially like how you explain stuff from metroid and make it “make sense”… which really throws it into perspective about how little sense it made before.

    Do the mapping rules soon!


  2. Thanks, Jackson! Yeah, I’m basically writing this draft as I play through the game for the first time: an interesting design technique that probably only works for solo games. But, consequently, the exploration rules are due to be finished next, since — as you can see from the playtest photos — I’ve finished the prep section and now have to create places to go.

  3. Emily Says:

    The daydreaming about your character part is great. And leaving things for yourself to discover. And the epilogue. I’m reminded of ROM: Space Knight, which might be a great inspiration for adding (in)human drama. What challenges are you aiming for?


  4. ROM Space Knight is an interesting comparison that I never thought of, but pretty close.

    Not sure about the challenges yet. Definitely the one about leaving behind something beautiful and crafty (in the form of maps and other play materials). Maybe one other.


  5. I’ve been coming back here every couple days waiting for this to look ready for me to play.
    And biting my tongue to prevent myself from giving unsolicited ideas – see, I read your article on how not to help a fledgling game design…


  6. Thanks, Jamie! I’m really excited that you’re excited to play!

    I appreciate you giving me the chance to get the basics down before offering feedback. It all more or less works in my head, I just need a bit more time to transcribe and playtest it, since grad school classes just started back this week.

    I’ll definitely make a blog post when it’s in a playable format. Sorry I’m holding you back!


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