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Tabletop Game / The Splinter

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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.

A supplement, Superstar Profile: Kade Merek, was released soon after Splinter was published. It details the titular character’s rise from the slums of Mumbai to fame and fortune in the game. In addition to providing extra insight into the game’s world, stats are included for his human and avatar forms.

The game's Web site can be found here.

The creator's blog can be found here.

Tropes included in the game:

  • The Ace: Popular players are this, especially if they’re player academy graduates. They have to be or else they would have died long before getting recognition.
  • Another Dimension: The resistance says that the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. is this.
  • The Atoner: The Asilos are an entire race of atoners. They're incapable of letting go of their past and are primarily driven by the desire to repent for their sins by doing good.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Players in the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. are constantly being monitored. The government also monitors and arrests its citizens for committing thought crimes. It’s not quite so vigilant about preventing street crime in poor areas though.
  • 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.
  • Bird People: The Arventine.
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: Despite being the size of an 18-wheeler, a Greatwolf Guardian prefers to fight with a melee weapon that it holds in its mouth. Despite this, they are surprisingly skilled.
  • Cyberpunk: Just a touch, but it's there.
    • Middle-form Mnemonics (a race of were-golems/were-robots) are often described as having cyberarms and cyberlegs, or the magitek equivalent.
    • Earthside is very cyber punk, both in terms of tech level and in a "ruled by megacorps" type of way.
  • Deadly Game
  • Death Trap: In the short form settings, players have to complete an objective and escape the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. within 8 hours. If they don’t meet that objective, neurotoxins are released into their bloodstreams.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Were you caught in possession of books or associating with certain groups? You might get sent to play the game, which is an almost certain death sentence.
  • 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!
  • Dungeon Crawling
  • Draconic Humanoid: The Wyndlass. In Zu form, they have distinctly dragon-like features and, in Aurora form, they become a thin, silver, drake.
  • 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.
  • Eliminated from the Race: The short form games. If you survive enough of them then you get to join the long form games.
  • 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.
  • Game Within a Game: The titular S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. Even the most prolific players have a life outside of the game.
  • Grand Theft Me: What the Players do to their Avatars every time they enter The Game.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Pitting players against each other in death matches is not uncommon. Not that the players involved necessarily know that they’re supposed to kill each other…
  • Large Ham: The color commentary mechanic rewards this. Professional players can pause in the middle of an action and describe what they're doing, similar to how reality tv shows cut away in the middle of an event so that the participants can describe how they felt and what they saw during the event. Depending on how awesome and over-the-top their description is, that player can get a bonus to their dice pool.
  • Magitek: 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.
    • It’s entirely possible for a player to be killed by architecture suddenly shifting position without warning.
  • 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-screwy.
    • 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.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Kade also goes by "Jacknife Kade", "Springheel Jack", and "The Needlekin Assassin".
  • 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 Ogres Are Hungrier: Flammeogres: Four arms and are constantly ON FIRE.
    • 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.
  • Patchwork World: The world inside of the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. to an insane degree. Adjacent areas may not even seem to be from the same time period, let alone environment.
  • Police State: Earthside is a police state controlled by a lone Mega-Corp.
  • 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 Precursor 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.
  • Proud Scholar Race: The Tzaetzi are dedicated to recovering their world's history.
    • The Mnemonics are generally interested in recovering and reverse engineering the technology scattered about the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Needlekin. They see their world as a massive proving ground.
  • Rags to Riches: Ronald Singh was an impoverished, juvenile delinquent who went on to become Kade Merek, the most popular player in the game’s history. It has made him fabulously wealthy.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: The Realm is randomly generated diegetically, to a degree that the inhabitants of said universe are acutely aware of.
  • Raygun Gothic: The Ancients of Io were a widespread precursor civilization who preferred super advanced technology that almost seemed magical. They are the main source of laser weapons and weirder devices, like shrink rays.
  • Reality Show
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Criminals are sometimes sentenced to play the game.
  • 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.
  • Screwed by the Network: The network in charge of the games has zero problems with killing people for the sake of ratings. Sometimes they actually force players to kill each other instead of waiting for the game to do it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Luciform daemons are a shout out to a The Mars Volta song of the same name.
    • The recent supplement "Sometimes Little Wondrous Things", mentions an ultra-religious settlement called Soothsayer that is very similar to Columbia from Bioshock Infinite. The inhabitants wield semi-steampunk technology and worship an entity called Jehova. It is also described as being set in a level made of "skies that go on forever, all blue and white, no ceilings at all".
    • There is an area of the SPLIINTER known as D-6 Metro Line that is essentially Metro 2033. Being made up of abandoned subway tunnels with signs written in Russian(and Japanese) and the locals often using bullets for currency.
  • Snake People: The Tzaetzi in Serpens form have distinctly serpentine features. in Ouroboros form, they become giant, golden cobras.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Needlekin, described in the game as "the living embodiment of violence, combat, and physical force". In Razorback form, spikes and blades grow out of their bones and through their skin. In Bladeling form, they're covered in an exoskeleton of steel bristles.
  • Steampunk: 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.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Earthside is this. Overlaps with Cyberpunk.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: All avatars in the S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. have this ability. Each race has three forms.
  • 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 lose. 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.