Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Five or So Questions with Dustin DePenning on Synthicide

I interviewed Dustin DePenning on Synthicide, his sci-fi RPG planned for Kickstarter next year. He is currently looking for playtesters to help refine the game, so if you're interested, e-mail him at

Tell me about Synthicide. What excites you about it?

Synthicide is a custom tabletop rpg system set in a violent galaxy where humans are second-class to robots.

You and your fellow players take the role of Sharpers: free agent criminals exploring and looting society’s corpse. By working jobs, you will make friends and enemies amongst gangs, corporations, and pirates. And the Tharnaxist Church, the only thing resembling law, will stay well out of your way. But that’s only if the Church doesn’t catch you killing their pride and joy: a synthetic.

Now that's out of the way, what excites me about Synthicide are two things: it's gritty setting and its player tools. The game world is a combination of all my favorite sci fi themes: cyberpunk missions, societal decay, corruption, and space exploration. Each of these themes can become dominant from session to session. As players interact with these elements, their decisions snowball into crazy situations over the course of a campaign.

The player aids make me proud, because Synthicide's rules are meant to be played, not read. Character battle rules fit on a single page for easy reference, and high speed vehicle chase rules are on a second page if needed. And to help with improvisation, the GM has automated tools to generate NPCs, mission outlines, and even vehicle stats on the fly.

All this makes me really excited to finish development in the coming year.

What would a standard session be like for players as Sharpers?
Sharpers, are constantly losing money to needs like food, fuel, and better equipment. So most sessions start with players looking for a job – anything from assisting a street gang break into a vault, to helping a corporation track down and punish its debtors. The GM is encouraged to provide the players with two or three mission outlines so they can choose what kind of job to run, but most involve shady and violent activity. The real choice is who the players like working with and who they oppose.

As sessions add up, the consequences of player choices make the game world more intricate. Opponents from previous jobs might come back for revenge, complicating the players' efforts to stay on someone's payroll. If the players mess up enough, they lose their friends yet are left with dangerous enemies. They might have to turn tail and start fresh somewhere else in the Galaxy, continuing the cycle.

Tell me something interesting about the Tharnaxist Church. What is scary about it?
The Tharnaxist Church has the most resources and power out of everyone in the galaxy. Their history and influence stretches back to when the galaxy fell a millennia ago, so they alone have knowledge of advanced technology and mastery of robots. None of this power is put to good use, as Tharnaxist Priests aren't concerned with human affairs. You steal from someone? They don't care. You murder someone? They don't care. But as soon as you lay a hand on a robot or priest, they will destroy you.

The problem is that the best jobs a Sharper can get involve attacking priests and synthetics.

How do you make the gritty setting reflect in the rules?
Combat can be brutal. Synthicide uses a traditional HP and damage system, but it only takes a few hits to bring down a warrior. Also, HP levels up slowly, while attack and damage can increase quickly. To crank it up even more, there are optional rules for circulatory shock or suffering mental trauma. There's also an optional system where powerful attacks instantly kill poorly-armored foes.

The game's economy is also gritty. Players are frequently in danger of starving to death, but food is expensive. However, the rules don't track ammunition costs, making violent jobs an easy way to fill a hungry belly.

How does NPC generation work?

NPC generation is the simplest part of the game. The GM uses the automated tool to makes a few selections fitting the concept of the NPC. First choose a type, which is anything from rich man to animal. Next choose a mechanical role, such as a killer or sneak. Finally, choose one unique power, such as extra defenses or an explosive attack. The generator then fills in all the relevant stats and even rolls for loot. You can try the generator out yourself here:

What do you want players to take away from Synthicide?

I want the players to feel invested in overcoming the economic and social challenges they face in the game. They aren't adventuring as a choice, or because they are chosen heroes. They are fighting tooth and nail to justify their existence in the Galaxy. And as they grow in power and experience, I want them to notice what kind of person their character has become. Are they proud of what they have done to get this far? What are they willing to do to go even farther?

Thanks to Dustin for the great interview. Keep an eye out next year for the Synthicide Kickstarter, and don't forget to e-mail Dustin if you're interested in playtesting at

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