ON DYSTOPIAN EARTH, only the rich and the famous can afford personal freedoms. And the only way to get famous is to put on the best show you can... or die trying IN THE SPLINTER, everything is out to kill you. Even Fellow Avatars. And when you die in The Splinter, you die on Earth.
The Splinter is a fantasy/sci-fi tabletop RPG by End Transmission Games. The game's chief gimmick, as the blurb above suggests, is its dual nature: You play a citizen of a dystopian earth who is in turn a Player in a massive virtual-reality fantasy RPG called The Game. The Game is one part fantasy RPG, one part Arcade Deathmatch, one part pro football, and one part soap opera. It is the pinnacle of entertainment, and what allows Games.Corp to maintain control of the Plebeian Masses.On the other side of the equation is the Avatar, which the player's Player inhabits when playing the game. Avatars are shape-shifting demigods who inhabit The Realm, a universe composed entirely of an infinite, shape-shifting mega-dungeon. The Realm's history stretches back 100 billion years, including the rise and fall of thousands of Precursor civilizations that have all left relics of their technology behind for modern societies to discover. Recently, the citizens of the Realm have been under assault by the "outsiders", strange beings from beyond reality who possess Avatars and force them to participate in murderous games...The Splinter is, essentially, a deconstruction of classic tabletop gaming, subverting many classic gaming tropes while remaining a true monster-slaying, trap-disabling, loot-collecting dungeon crawl.The game's Web site can be found here: http://www.endtransmissiongames.com/splinter.htmlThe creator's blog can be found here: http://tarotamerican.wordpress.com/.
Tropes included in the game:
Bio Punk: Considering the occasional piece of symbiotic equipment or living weapon that shows up, one or more of The Realms precursor races seem to have dabbled in Bio Punk.
Some examples include the living torpedo (a bat-like creature that acts as a semi-intelligent homing torpedo) and Mr. Wubbles (bio-engineered little ball of fluff that is so unbelievably cute that creatures will stand around and coo at it until they die of starvation)
Then there's the Shooting Starfly and Great White Phoenix, both of which appear to be self-sustaining bioweapons. The Great White Pheonix even grows its own computer access terminals.
Middle-form Mnemonics (a race of were-golems/were-robots) are often described as having cyberarms and cyberlegs, or the magitech equivalent.
Earthside is very cyber punk, both in terms of tech level and in a "ruled by megacorps" type of way.
Diegetic Interface: Players must make a test versus the Avatar they are inhabiting when entering the splinter. The degree of success determines how much of your in-game HUD you have access too. Total failure means the IRL!player doesn't even have access to their character sheet!
Dyson Sphere: Some of the fluff from the corebook suggests that The Realm is in fact a dyson sphere. Anyone's guess what it's built around.
Fantastic Racism: Not being able to freely shape-shift is a sure sign of non-sentience to many beings in The Realm, no matter how intelligent and self-aware the being in question is.
The Voormis induce an instinctive, seemingly elemental feeling of revulsion from other sentient beings.
Everybody hates the Ophidians, but that's because they're generally pretty vile. Turning into a black, tentacle-like serpent doesn't help matters.
Fridge Horror: At first, the Controll Test mechanic seems like an interesting way of highlighting the Diegetic Interface nature of the character sheet. Then you realize that it represents the Player fighting to control the body of a fully sentient Avatar who had just been going about his life before being possessed. What's worse: the way the numbers work out, Avatars have almost no chance of retaining control of their body against all but the weakest-willed players. They best they can hope for is to subtly influence the Player towards their own loyalties or goals.
Grand Theft Me: What the Players do to their Avatars every time they enter The Game.
Magitech: In The Realm, magic & science are indistinguishable. As far as citizens of the realm are concerned, magic animates golems, makes guns fire, powers your fireball spells, holds you to the ground, and everything else. The powers-that-be on Earthside are frantically trying to figure all this out, as The Realm (in theory) operates on nearly identical physics as the real world.
Malevolent Architecture: The vast majority of the traps encounters in The Realm weren't put there by any sentient being, they just sort of appeared.
Not entirely true: the Earthside programmers who created The Realm designed it this way.
Mega Corp.: Earthside is controlled entirely by Gamescorp, which absorbed all other corperations during the Corporate Warfare of the previous centry.
Mind Screw: The way Earthside and The Realm interact is a bit mind-screwey
To clarify: Earthside programmers created The Realm as the ultimate virtual reality playground, and have since lost the ability to influence it directly beyond a few minor changes. Rather than simply loading up an avatar of their own design, Players are forced to override the consciousness of an already existent being in The Realm, and must actively fight for control of the body both minds inhabit. The beings of The Realm have become aware of Earthside as a result, and believe they are under attack by some extra-dimensional alien force. Compared to Earthside, The Realm is far older and far more complex. The question is, at what point does (did?) the realm stop being a simulation and become real?
The experience of being an IRL player playing an Earthside Player playing an Avatar in The Realm is also a bit of a mind screw.
Our Monsters Are Different: The monster designs take traditional fantasy monsters and make them strange, or take stock monsters from other genres and make them strange by virtue of the fact that they're in a fantasy dungeon crawl (like zeerust-y killer robots or lovecraftian spider-creatures). Overlaps with Our Monsters Are Weird.
Our Dragons Are Different: True Dragons are a non-playable Bloodline complete with a man, middle, and beast form. They do not strictly breathe fire; rather, their World-Breathing allows them to alter the very fabric of reality with their breath.
The Wyndlass, one of the playable bloodlines, are a race of shape-shifting silver drakes. Rather than a dragons signature breath weapon, they can wield weapons with their tail, and can detach their wings and use them as attack drones.
Our Demons Are Different: Daemons are more akin to malevolent elementals than to judaeo-christian demons. Turns into Fridge Horror when you realize that these horrible, tortuous beings represent part of the essential nature of The Realm.
Our Goblins Are Different: The Voormis are horrible, yellow, misshapen proto-men who invoke an instinctual feeling of revulsion and horror in other sentient life-forms. In a twist on the shape-shifting nature of many of the other creatures of The Realm, the Voormis are born as small, rat-like creatures and gradually attain their near-human form as they age.
Our Liches Are Different: The Asilos and the Haon-Dor are essentially shape-shiftier liches, with a human form, lich-like middle form, and ghost-like "beast" form. The Haon-Dor also have a tendency to wield various high-tech/magitech weapons and equipment.
Our Werebeasts Are Different: The vast majority of sentient beings inhabiting The Realm (and all of the beings that can become Avatars for Players) are shape-shifters. In fact, being able to freely shift forms is considered by many citizens of The Realm to be required for true sentience. Leads to some Fantastic Racism.
Our Monsters Are Weird: Lets see: clockwork, parasitic hummingbirds? check. Crystallin robot trees? Check. Giant wurms that spontaneously turn stone into water? Check. Multi-limbed undead monstrosities that spontaneously turn into other monsters? check.
Precursors: Considering how incredibly vast the simulated history of The Realm is (over 100 billion years according to the tagline from one of the splatbooks), there are hundreds, possibly thousands of Precurser species in the setting, which helps explain the Schizo Tech to a degree.
The earthside humans are the ultimate Precursors to The Realm: the programmers who originally brought that computer-simulation-cum-universe into being have entered into the mythology of The Realm as the Neomonte or "name-givers."
Well, that's ONE interpretation.
Randomly Generated Levels: The Realm is randomly generated diegetically, to a degree that the inhabitants of said universe are acutely aware of.
Recursive Reality: Of the Russian Nesting Doll variety. Earthside scientists created the Realm as a computer simulation, and then the Pyx created their own universe from within the Realm.
Schizo Tech: The technology in The Splinter covers everything from early medieval weapons to impossibly advanced, essentially magical devices. The core rulebook includes repeating crossbows, monofilament razor-wire launchers, steampunk Gatling guns, automatic shotguns, advanced underwater laser pistols, heavy insanity rays, blade-wands, disintegrator pistols, directional nukes, and about 50 types of old-fashioned medieval slaughtering tools.
The Luciform daemons are a shout out to a The Mars Volta song of the same name.
Steam Punk: There's a whole tech level of weapons and gear dedicated to steam punk.
One of the precursor races, the Pyx, was fabulously advanced to the point of being able to create their own miniature universes, but designed most of their technology to run on steam because they enjoyed the aesthetic.
Win to Exit: If a Player's Avatar dies, the Player dies on Earthside. This isn't a side effect of the VR technology being used, rather it's because the Mega Corp. in control of the VR technology will give you an immediate lethal injection if you loose. Thanks, Gamescorp!
Zeerust: Many of the higher-tech pieces of gear that can be found fall squarely into this category. The majority of such items are leftovers from a specific precursor race.