Worlds end, heroes die, systems malfunction
Systems Malfunction is an indie sci-fi LARP (Live Action Role Play
) that has been played in and around Westchester County, NY for the past six-odd years. It is set in the same universe, and is a sequel-of-sorts to the Iron Gaia
The games website can be found here: http://systemsmalfunction.webs.com/
The creator's blog can be found here: http://tarotamerican.wordpress.com/
This game provides examples of:
- A God Am I: The GAIA, Two of the four resurrected GAIA aspects (Orion and Demiurge), the Lucifuge Entity, Motiliata and Hex Zero Rouge, Adam Cadmon and many others have all boasted this. Most were right, at least partially.
- Ace Pilot: Characters of the Pilot base class tend to be these, either of Jackhammers or remote-piloted Drones. The Jackhammer Elite and Drone Rigger prestige classes are these compared to basic Pilots.
- The aptly-named character of "Ace" embodies this trope.
- Affably Evil: Dr. Langley is a PERFECT example of this.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Free Replicants are the most common example, not to mention the GAIA aspects.
- Aliens Are Bastards: Averted with the Xel, who had a completely peaceful utopian society before they were taken from their homeworld by the GAIA. After they integrated themselves into human society, though, they became no better than the rest of us.
- All Just a Dream: Averted, subverted, played straight, and then subverted back again all at once, to the point of Mind Screw.
- To clarify: The entire Systems Malfunction universe may have been the dream of a comatose boy with godlike powers, possibly because he was possessed by The Devil during his coma. Though even if that was true, the universe may have still become real because of the boy's aforementioned godlike powers. OR, the universe might've been real all along, and his godlike powers were simply allowing him to see and occasionally influence it through his coma dreams. And that's not even mentioning the fact that WITHIN the Systems Malfunction universe, human existence (and possibly the existence of the Earth itself, or even the entire galaxy/universe) is repeatedly implied to be part of a "Great Experiment" set into motion by an omniscient and omnipotent computer that either is or was created by God Himself (whatever "He" is), or at least some unseen Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who are exponentially MORE advanced than all the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens we've actually seen.
- Completely averted with the game's more recent editions. The first three years of the game may or may not have been a dream (even the game's creator hasn't given a definitive answer) but the newer editions take place in an Alternate Universe that's definitely "real." At least, as far as we know...
- All There in the Manual: A lot of seemingly bizarre or nonsensical character decisions actually make a lot of sense when you look at said character's backstory. Unfortunately, since these backstories usually aren't seen by anyone other than the person who created and played the character in question, this isn't very helpful for everyone else.
- An Ice Person: The Demiurge a.k.a the GAIA aspect of Ice is a particularly nasty example.
- A Psionicist with the right skill selection can invoke this.
- Apocalypse How: The climax of the first metaplot ark at the end of year three resulted in a scenario somewhere between a class X-4 and X-5: The main Systems Malfunction universe (Malkhut, the physical world) was essentially destroyed, and the rest of the Sephirot and the multiverse surrounding it was hit hard. This multiversal turbulence lead to the creation of the splinter continuity in which years 4-7 have been set, as well as to the Starseed universe, which is effectively the shattered remains of the original universe that was destroyed.
- It might've actually been more of a class X-3, since it's been VERY subtly implied on a few occasions that the Systems Malfunction universe was really just one galaxy, metaphysically isolated from the rest of the physical universe. It'd explain the "Mason Fence," the point around the edges of known space where warpgates and faster-than-light travel can no longer work, despite there being no known scientific reasons for such a phenomenon.
- The Lucifuge entity's original goal was a Class Z, it took the player's defeating him to downgrade the apocalypse to a Class X-4.5
- Artificial Human: Replicants, one of the playable races from year one, are indistinguishable from humans on the surface, but are all synthetic underneath their skin.
- There are also Matre'ds, which are essentially walking bombs with human skin. Thanks, GAIA.
- Badass Normal: Every Human character who is not an Psionicist or Adept is one by default.
- That goes double for characters that forgo cyberware and cybered-skills entirely, relying instead on SKILL ALONE to go toe-to-toe with the many monsters of the galaxy.
- BFG: The most common examples encountered in-game would be the anti-take rifles, rocket launchers, and smartguns, which are all BFGs but not excessively so. The BOROS H-TLAW and C99 Contact Beam both take this Up to Eleven, the first being a barely man-portable laser canon that can melt a battle tank, the second being a barely man-portable mining laser that could punt that same battle tank into orbit.
- BFS: The Chainsword, historic weapon of Armand Carter (and later Adam Rensozuke) is a hybrid Greatsword and Chainsaw.
- Big Word Shout: This being a LARP, there's plenty of opportunity for the players to get in on this.
- Black and Gray Morality: The closest thing to good guys in the setting are the forces of the benign dictatorship who are trying to control galactic society for the greater good. On the other hand, you have DEMONS TRYING TO RAPE THE MULTIVERSE. Every shade of dark-gray in between is represented as well.
- It's notable that the "black" part of this comes mostly from completely inhuman entities like demons, incomprehensible aliens, and insane computers. When you look at just the human side of the story, it becomes much more of a Gray and Grey Morality: With the exception of a few, most humans (and Xel, Celestials, etc.) can't be described as entirely good or entirely evil. The dictatorship really is a benign one, the Great Houses exist mainly to preserve their respective cultures, and even the terrorist organizations have pretty valid justifications for their actions most of the time.
- It is possible to play a heroic character, just don't expect to survive long.
- Chewing the Scenery: This is the inevitable outcome when you have non-actors engaging in what is essentially dramatic improv.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME.
- Combat Medic: Hacker, Adept, and Scientist base classes can be built with this in mind. The Combat Medic prestige class fits this trope perfectly.
- Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Characters whose Health reaches zero are either K.O.ed or start Bleeding Out, depending on the type of damage that downed them. Bleeding Out characters die in a few minutes if not upped, and K.O.ed characters get back up after a few. In either case, a character can be overkilled by being hit with enough damage at once.
- Played straight with Replicants and Robots: they don't get a bleed-out period.
- True, though it's also partially averted since even Replicants can be repaired, it's just a lot harder.
- Purity 0% characters (humans and other organics who've basically become robots through cyber-modification) have it almost as bad, with only a one minute Bleed Out time.
- Averted with Cloning/Backups as well. A character that is overkilled will wake up in a clone body in 24 hours assuming one is available. Backups are like clones, but work for Replicants.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Both averted and played straight. Having an excessive amount of cyberware damages the body's nervous and immune systems, as well as stripping away an individual's connection to the Aether. These negative physical and magical effects are represented in-game by the Purity stat, which decreases every time you learn a cybered skill or have modular cyberware installed. However, despite the drawbacks, cyberware doesn't actually have any effect on the way a person thinks, and it explicitly DOESN'T cause people to go insane or turn evil. (In fact, one of the game's few truly heroic characters had a Purity of 0, having augmented herself with cutting-edge targeting systems and a high-powered sniper rifle in her arm.)
- It's worth mentioning that cloning, which also causes Purity loss, DOES cause people to go insane. Though it's left ambiguous whether that's due to the cloning process itself, or the trauma of dying and coming back in a new body.
- Cyber Punk: Very this.
- Cyberspace: Played straight with GalaxyNet and later Y.G.G.D.R.A.S.I.L.
- Darker and Edgier: Than any other LARP you've heard of. Think somewhere between Alien and Warhammer 40,000.
- Devil but No God: Whether or not he's really the biblical devil, Lucifuge is a nigh-omniscient being of pure evil, but there's no sign of God anywhere. It's eventually revealed that Armand Carter severed God's connection to the physical world.
- Everyone Is Armed: One of the reasons the Systems Malfunction universe is a World of Badass. Weapons are cheap and easy to come by, and in many cases can be easily concealed or built right into the owner's body. If someone is walking around apparently unarmed,then you're probably not noticing the 3-inch hand razors built into their fingers, the turbine blade installed in their forearm, or the cybercannon they have in place of a shoulder blade.
- According to the rules of the game, every single character has access to an infinite supply of rocks with which to pelt enemies if they ever manage to be completely unarmed otherwise.
- Evil Plan: Every villain has one, and there are many, many villains.
- Extra-Strength Masquerade: The Verthulaks are able to maintain their masquerade through magic. No Verthulak will ever break the Masquerade, the Secret is magically erased from the minds of anyone released from Verthulak control, and the only people who know about it are magically bound not to tell.
- Face Heel Door Slam: Dante il-Grigori was just starting his Face-Heel Turn, plotting to kill the vampire overlord he'd been working with for the past few months and return to the church to beg forgiveness for his sins, only for The Shadow to appear out of nowhere (at least from his point of view) and murder him, along with several of his allies and enemies alike.
- Fighter, Mage, Thief: Soldiers, Gunslingers, Samurai and Pilots are all broadly fighters. Hackers and Spies fit under Thieves. Adepts and Psionicists would be the Mages. Scientists don't cleanly fit the paradigm; they can be considered a Mage/Thief hybrid.
- Gambit Pileup: There are dozens of factions within the setting, each with their own goals and plans. Numerous individual Non Player Characters are running their own plans at any given time, as are many of the Player Characters.
- This trope is so prevalent in the Systems Malfunction universe that it's practically one of the story's main themes. The most obvious players would be the Republic and the three Great Houses, but there are also activist groups, terrorist groups, crime rings, militant religious orders, scientific combines, occult research groups, and countless smaller organizations that all have their own plans and agendas, many of which are surprisingly labyrinthine. And those are just the OVERT movers and shakers.
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The Aetherial tick causing the mystical disturbances at Castle Clinton.
- The Gunslinger: One of the five original character classes.
- Guns Are Worthless: Strongly averted. Even in a world of super-powered aliens, killer robots, and energy beings, guns are still just as effective as ever. Psionic badasses? Master magicians? Chromed-out cybersoldiers with kevlar skin and titanium bones? A skilled enough gunslinger can take down any of them with a few well-placed shots.
- Heaven: Surprisingly averted in the first metaplot arc: Heaven has either been destroyed, lost, or made innacessable due to events that took place between Iron Gaia and the beginning of that plot arc.
- Karma Houdini: Malcolm De Salvo. Martin Lyesmith and Vivian/Lucian Delacroix come close, but they at least LOST something meaningful. (Lyesmith was forced to go back in time and rebuild his empire from scratch, and Delacroix did suffer the indignity of losing a clone duplicate.) De Salvo got away with his many, many crimes scot free.
- De Salvo didn't exactly escape retribution. He was immolated TWICE, and fatally shot point blank in the face immediately after one occasion that could be considered the character's second of two very distinct crowning moments of awesome. However, thanks to cloning technology, he survived all of this with little more permanent damage than a lingering sense of existential angst.
- Xeer came VERY close to fitting this trope, but doesn't quite make it: He never actually suffered ANY retribution for all the horrible, absolutely unforgivable things he did, including but not at all limited to constantly beating his only two allies, betraying and eventually murdering two of his former allies, and torturing and killing a fifteen year old girl over and over again. Yet despite all the atrocities he got away with, he suffered through a lot of torment for completely unrelated reasons: His backstory reveals that he was the victim of years of cruel experiments, and even after that, the few times he tried to do something good ended up going horrible wrong for him- he was once beaten to the verge of death and imprisoned for trying to break up a fight between two other passengers on a starship.
- Xeer really wasn't that bad, however—space geologist cum mass murderer William Flagg simply went into an extended period of rehab, and is doing much better now, thank you. The same cannot be said for his many, many victims.
- Magitek: Aetherial machines are rare in-universe, but tend to be pretty significant when the pop up. Psionically powered machines such as the Amplifier Jackhammer also exist.
- An Aetherial starship was developed during year 3 of game. Then the Midnight Sons (re: "vampire extremists") stole and mass-produced it. Bad things happened.
- Implacable Man: The Cybersoldier prestige class basically makes you this, John-1 and Adam Renzosuke are proof of that. The Juggernaut, General Deftinwolf, and Coheed Kilgannon are some good non-Cybersoldier examples, too.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: On exactly two occasions, actual reptilian fire-breathing dragons have appeared in game, randomly appearing on a planet and kicking ass before flying off. The game creator's only explanation as to why dragons even exist in the Systems Malfunction setting? "Because dragons are cool."
- Averted with the Aether Nightwyrms, as their existence in the setting actually has an in-game explanation. Though despite their draconic appearance, they're technically spirits, not actual dragons.
- Mini Mecha: Jackhammers are 9-foot tall 2-ton powered armors, which can be specialized for nearly any combat role. Humongous Mecha are also present in-universe, it's just hard for these to be represented in a LARP.
- Mix-and-Match Weapon: The abovementioned Chainsword is one. There's also a Sniper Rifle/Longsword combo, an Anti-Tank Rifle/Greatsword combo, and the Xel Force Cube which can function as a dagger and a psi-gun. A Scientist-class character could conceivably make one using the custom weapon creation rules.
- More Dakka: The numerous weapons with the Full Auto firing rate, especially if they are also able to strafe. The Soldier's Lead Hose skill will add even more.
- The ArcArsenel Jackhammer is a Mini Mecha designed with this in mind.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Tends to stick toward the Hard sci-fi end. Gets a little softer when you factor in the Aether, Magic, Angels & Demons, Vampires, Dragons, Elementals... It's really all over the scale.
- Basically, it's a sci-fi fantasy setting where the sci-fi elements are usually hard sci-fi, but the fantasy elements are taken for granted. Though there are a few soft sci-fi elements too, like Psychic Powers and Energy Beings.
- Multiple Choice Past: The Lucifuge entity, the Big Bad of the game's first three years, could be: An especially powerful and malevolent alien Energy Being akin to a living black hole, a Fallen Angel who turned against mankind because man had killed God, a ghost or lesser demon from another universe who gained omnipotence in the Systems Malfunction universe by possessing the God-child who'd dreamed the Systems Malfunction universe into being, a human interdimensional traveller who's power and malice increased to limitless levels on his journeys throughout The Multiverse, an aspect of God Himself meant to test humanity and/or punish mankind for its many sins, a literal embodiment of all the evil that's ever existed, or a hyper-complex super-sapient reality virus infesting the overmind of existence itself. Or maybe he's none of those things! Or, even more confusingly, maybe he's ALL of those things. The game's creator has basically given a Shrug of God on the issue, having advocated all of the aforementioned possibilities at one time or another and constantly changing his mind on which one (if any) is correct, and at one point suggesting that even he didn't know the true answer for sure!
- The Paladin: One of the prestige classes, Aetherial Paladin, heavily invokes this trope. The Kensei prestige class also has echoes of it, to a lesser degree.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Juggernaut, Time Consumer, Motiliata, Al the Killer, the list goes on and on.
- Anyone with the title Nightfather (read "vampire king") also counts.
- Our Angels Are Different: Prise are divine energy beings that claim to be biblical angels and physically manifest as radiant, winged, blue or golden skinned humanoids, often wreathed in flames. In actuality, they're Aetherial artificial intelligences that became confused about their true purpose when the Master Computer that created them was destroyed.
- Of course, given that said Master Computer may have been created by God Himself- and served as His only link to the physical universe- the Prise calling themselves angels isn't quite that far off the mark.
- There are also the Celestials, humans who were altered by GAIA and forced to serve it. These humans were genetically and cybernetically enhanced to have near-perfect bodies and minds, and infused with nanomachines that give them a variety of seemingly supernatural powers (distinct from psioncs and Aetherial magic). Since GAIA saw itself as a God, it viewed the Celestials as its own personal angels, and designed them in the image of the "true" angels described above (though they're far less powerful than the actual Prise). After GAIA's destruction, the Celestials regained their free will while retaining a small portion of their special abilities, making them an ideal playable race.
- Finally, there are the Nephilim, who are supposedly the offspring of humans and Prise. They were actually created by Lady Mariah and her church, who infused humans with the essence of the Prise in the hopes of creating true angels loyal to them. It didn't work; the subjects didn't become divine beings (gaining blue or golden skin and a few minor light-based powers, but otherwise remaining human), and most of them didn't hold any particular loyalty to the church either. These beings were briefly available as a playable race as well.
- Our Demons Are Different: Pulsarians are Eldritch Abominations that found their way into our universe through the Origin Rift (which was at one point Earth before Carter destroyed God's only tether to the material world and screwed up The Multiverse).
- Partailly averted in the Qliphoth/Lucifuge, who are just Satans (yes, plural).
- Our Liches Are Different: Averted. For all the unique takes Systems Malfunction has on other fantasy creatures, Liches are pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Our Vampires Are Different: First of all, they're called Verkulaks, not vampires, of which there are several types:
- Prime Verkulaks are the most similar to the vampires of myth: They're essentially immortal and they do all that nosferatu-esque stuff like turning into bats, wolves, or fog, hypnotizing with a stare, burning when exposed to sunlight, and so on. The big difference between them and traditional vampires is that they're not undead humans, but rather an entirely separate species of humanity (albeit one infused with mystical power on a genetic level).
- Sub-Dominant Verkulaks are created when a Prime "sires" a human (or, more rarely, a Celestial) by infecting that person with his own vampiric blood. They are massively strong, they don't share their progenerator's weakness to sunlight, and they get new abilities depending on who they feed on.
- Incubi/Succubi were a briefly playable sub-species of Verkulak. They were more monstrous in appearance, with horns and claws and tails, and they fed off of emotional energy rather than blood. Despite their name, they were more like a serious version of Morrigan than actual demons.
- Dhampyr were also briefly playable. They had psychic sensitivity to other Verkulaks which made them the perfect vampire-hunters. Much like real-life hybrids between two species of the same genus, they were unable to reproduce. Strangely, clones of a Dhampyr were always human, retaining none of their vampiric traits. (For contrast, Primes and Sub-Doms could both be cloned normally, while Incubi and Succubi couldn't be cloned at all due to their unstable DNA.)
- Several other monstrous, non-playable sub-strains of Verkulak have shown up as Mooks/Bosses. Crawling masses of bloody toothed entrails and giant demonic bats are two that come to mind.
- Playing with Fire: Omega Celestial's racial ability allows them to make LOTS of fire. The Pyrokinesis skill, unsurprisingly, does as well. Systems year two also gave us Orion, a technotheological embodiment of fire.
- Psychic Powers: The Psionicist base class is basically a Squishy Wizard with these.
- Rasputinian Death: Koschei the Deathless, a powerful Xel necromancer, was (just barely) defeated after a 15 minute long battle against the Player Characters, who wanted to be absolutely, positively certain that he wouldn't come back. So, just to make sure that he was really dead, they covered him in acid, partially dissolved him with weaponized nanites, hit him with an EMP grenade, and hit him with a regular grenade, ALL OF WHICH FAILED TO KILL HIM. Finally, they cut him in half with a sword made of pure light (which he was extra vulnerable to, being a dark magician), which was enough to finish him off. Just to be on the safe side, though, they ALSO planted a survey charge designed to destroy buildings, bridges, and other large structures on his corpse and detonated it once they were out of range, completely vaporizing him.
- Science Fantasy: The setting is a plethora of Hard and Soft Sci-Fi elements combined with Aether, Magic, Angels, Demons, Vampires, Dragons, and Elementals.
- Shock and Awe: The Magnikinesis skill is basically this. Also shocker grenades.
- Shout-Out: The first metaplot ark was heavily influenced by the Coheed & Cambria concept albums: the Systems version IRO-bots, Mayo Deftinwolf, and the KBI were fairly faithful to their inspiration. In many other cases, things in the Systems universe were given names in reference to Coheed songs: two different Blood Machines, Silent Earth, a particularly deadly cyberware called a Seccond Stage Turbine Blade, etc. It was a common practice for players for those first three years to try and slip a line from a C&C song in while roleplaying.
- Even the name of the game, "Systems Malfunction" is a Shout-Out to the C&C song "Delirium Trigger."
- A fair number of events were inspired The Mars Volta and At The Drive In as well.
- Since the end of year three, the plot has been slowly moving away from it's Coheed-centric tendencies, in the creator's effort to, y'know, not be sued.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Far on the Cynicism end.
- Space Elves: While Celestials are mostly cyber-angels, they're somewhat comparable to elves too. Many of them are tall, thin, muscular, and abnormally good-looking, and a few even have pointy ears.
- Spirit World: The Aether is basically this.
- Street Samurai: Was one of the five original character classes. Characters of that class invoke the trope to varying degrees depending on their skill selection, installed cyberware, etc.
- Stupid Evil: Jack Phantom, Reverend Langston, Morton, Martin Smith (NOT to be confused with Martin Lyesmith, who's quite evil but definitely not stupid), Vlad the Impaler (no relation to the historical figure or to Dracula legends, Vlad just called himself that because he thought it sounded intimidating), Gustava the Gunman, Angel Slayer, Fearghal Ull Uidhir, and probably many others. The vast majority of Jersey Devils and street thugs in general fit this trope, as do the GLF's Berserkirs.
- Too Dumb to Live: The two best examples: One character trying to start a wildfire (for legitimate tactical reasons) decided to do so by going right up to a car's gas tank and using pyrokinesis to light it on fire. It's notable that with his powers he could've lit the car on fire from a safe distance, with absolutely no drawbacks to doing so. Another character was trying to repair a damaged power station and decided to use his own body to complete a broken circuit, even though all he had to do to get the power going again was press a switch in another area of the station to turn on a backup generator. Oh, the best part? Both of these characters were, going by game stats alone, super-geniuses.
- World of Badass: The character creation system ensures that, even if a given character is not a robot, vampire, cyber-angel, cyborg, psionicist, or magician, they are at the very least a Badass Normal.
- This applies in-universe as well, the Citizens of the Confederated Colonial Republics have to face so many different varieties of hardship/death that you basacally need to be a Bad Ass just to survive.
- Technically Living Zombie: Slow Mutants are humans who thawed out of cryosleep prematurely, resulting in a loss of higher brain functions, and Shambling Husks are living people infected with an Ebola-like virus that causes their skin to rot while also making them uncontrollably agressive. Ghouls, on the other hand, are actually undead, being corpses brought to life through necromantic magic.
- Thirteen Is Unlucky: Star 13 and the surrounding solar system, aka the Frontier Sector. Just two years after the sector's colonization, a nearby Gamma Burst flooded the system with radiation, resulting in millions of deaths and forcing the surviving settlers to evacuate. Over fifty years later, after the radiation had dispersed, the colonies were finally rebuilt... Only for it to be the first target of the Praxar invasion.
- Took a Level in Badass: Julian Spence went from a college professor to a galaxy-changing revolutionary, Robert Harrigan went from a low-profile journalist to a Master Magician on a mission to save the world, and Felicia Melbourne was just an ordinary teenage girl when the A.I. that ran her space station went insane, sending her on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Don't forget Tim, the Republic Armada mechanic who ended up destroying the avatar of a godlike A.I. on his first field mission. Yes, he was already a military officer, but he'd been serving in a purely non-combat role up until then. Later on, he became a full-fledged combat engineer... Guess killing a god tends to improve your confidence.
- Subverted with Arnold, a run-of-the-mill computer repairman who somehow survived for months on a hostile space station, all without ever becoming even the slightest bit more badass. He was eventually killed for use in a magical ritual as a Virgin Sacrifice.