Friday, June 1, 2012

Setting: Welcome to Thermal Shock


Welcome to the world of Thermal Shock.

Discovered nearly a hundred years ago, the construct-world known as Layered became the beacon of adventure, research, and economic advancement. Composed of an as-of-yet unknown number of nested, independently rotating spheres, Layered is a massive place, full of treasure, advanced technology and opportunity. Massive mega-structures and alien devices control the weather, cycle air and water, and draw raw materials from the lower planes.

In nearly a century of exploration, only the three outermost layers have been explored to any extent. There is evidence that there are at least eleven layers, and maybe more.

The outermost layer is almost Earth-like, with a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere and a similar ecosystem to that of Terra. Part of this is due in part to the original human explorers and later settlers, having cajoled the strange, surface-level mega-structures toward terraforming efforts. Established nations and polities reap the fruit of those early efforts, having claimed the outermost layer and sky for their own.

The second layer down is the Forge, the red-hot manufacturing core of Layered. Machines the size of continents churn out rivers of molten metal, while thousand-mile waterfalls in the great oceans above quench massive superstructures. The Forge is the source of Layered's great rain storms, throwing up columns of steam and smoke that reach the very edges of the atmosphere.

Below the Forge lies the Grind, A cavernous space with the manufactories drifting above. Nearly a hundred miles deep, this place is filled with massive chunks of raw material, raw ore, cooling metal, massive crystal structures and more. All rumbling together, colliding forever until the Forge can reach down and draw up the smallest, choices pieces.

The laws of physics themselves are ground down in this place, bringing forth impossible alloys, unique, never-before seen substances, and even greater mysteries. Sometimes entire wordlets rise out of the dark, holding slivers of alien ecosystems and strange, never-before seen monsters. Such wonders are often short-lived, as the clouds of raw material crash and grind into each other, rending themselves down into small enough chunks for the Forge to gather up and process.

Beyond the Grind, there is only rumor and a handful of ancient maps left by unknown civilizations.

Mega-structures of Layered.

The Capillaries. Threaded throughout Layered are massive, circular excisions, pits that cut all the way through a layer to reveal the one below it. Regular as clockwork, these structures align from one layer to another, and for a few minutes, each layer stop moving. "A searing hot pulse of light burns out from the core of the planet, tunneling out through the atmosphere. Magnetic compasses and sensory equipment go haywire. A split-second later, a massive object of unknown origins rockets out into deep space with a rumbling boom that shakes even the Forge layer. No one has yet caught more than a glimpse to determine what these objects may be, but theories abound.

The predominant among the research elite is that each Capillary is in fact a tremendous mass driver, part of an orbital relay system that so far has defined understanding. Their cycle is so regular, the people who live in the Forge or navigate the Grind use it to track the passing of months.

Who Are You:

Maybe you're an immigrant from the Earth Territories, looking to put your name in the history books. Maybe you're a contractor for one of the factions of Layered. You might be a criminal, a saint, soldier or savant. Layered is one of the Last Great Adventures, and this is your small part of it. Most try their hands behind the controls of a Havoc, driving great engines of industry and warfare towards wealth beyond comprehension.

Miles of unclaimed manufactories and ancient, unknown technology lie in wait, within the tiers and strata of the Forge. Clouds of aggressive, consumptive vapors 
rend down ore into rivers of molten metal, feeding alien engines of industry and production. Wars are fought over the smallest of these wonders, angling for the next great advantage in the intercline conflict of Layered.

Thousands of men and women go into the depths of the Grind looking for treasure and fame, putting their skills, gear and willingness to risk everything. Thousands die unknown and unmourned, their remains at best found and picked over by those who come after. Small teams of private explorers rush to find the newest finds, hottest commodities and push harder and faster for the mission that will make them richer beyond their wildest imaginations. Speeds is everything, in the Grind, because what came to day will be gone tomorrow.

No man yet known has seen what lies below the Grind, any who have choose not to say. Maybe you'll be the one to see it first. 

The Machines:

A hundred years ago, Layered was savaged and untamed. From orbit, the gaps in the outer shell seemed to go down into the molten core of the planet. Giant lakes of fire and smoke sliding beneath floating continents. The world itself was larger than Earth, with extensive jungles and mountain ranges that dwarfed even the greatest spans of terrain on the human homeworld.

Despite its size, Layered's gravity was only slightly more than that of Earth, almost conveniently so. That was the first of many mysteries. When mankind first broke ground, they had no idea what was in store for them. Sometimes mountains weren't mountains, and deserts covered massive secrets. Great sheets of nearly indestructible metal peeked out through gaps in soil and at the edges of the continental plates.

And further dotting the landscape, between the mega-structures and thousand-year-old forests, were machines. Wrecked by time and who knew what else, the first explorers found these vehicles and pulled them from the land. The bravest or most foolhardy were the first to experiment. From those first finds, the great minds of Layered pulled forth some of the earliest and most useful secrets of the age.

Havoc followed, and Havocs stayed.

The first Havocs, the precursor machines, were made for ancient, alien limbs and minds, with controls and interfaces that required an unsteady hand and an unsettling lack of sanity. Since then, those first steps lead to the revolution in military and industrial technology... with a catch. Most technology since discovered within Layered is itself part of the world. Before the Department's blockade was fully established, the original settlers tried to run, using their advanced technology. After a certain point past orbit, everything made possible by the artifact below ceased to function. Many men died in dead spacecraft, cut off from power to run life support and other vital systems.

Now, a century has passed. Layered Technology created a burgeoning tangle of empires in the making. Human and off-human Havocs work alongside more mundane staples of industry, moving earth, raising buildings and any number of sundry tasks. The same is said of military technology, with Havocs serving as a new direction in combat. Nowhere else in the known Earth Territories can humaniform combat vehicles work as well as they do on Layered, much to the chagrin of immigrants and veterans of conventional warfare.

A Havoc, as of the present day, is a fifteen to twenty-five foot tall vehicle. Most modern models are humaniform, with two arms, two legs and a head. The details vary between specific types and production patterns. One type made by a given company may favor reverse-articulated legs, for example. For the most part they are often big and burly, even the most agile types giving off the impression of wiry strength. Composed of interlocking segments of armor and connective structure, they move with an almost organic grace.

Its one of the great mysteries of Layered that lets such things work as they do, the few samples held outside of the planets range are most often nonfunctional, or at best clumsy power hogs, requiring a ship's engine to even activate.

Through the course of is life, a Havoc becomes unique to the pilot or pilots who drive it, imparting their personality on it as much as their preference in upgrades. A Havoc is not alive, but nor is it completely inert. Sometimes, when undergoing repairs or upgrades, the machine's innards will, ever so slightly, reach out for replacement parts, eager to become whole again.

Piloting a Havoc is surprisingly easy and intuitive, and requires little training to achieve basic competence. Experience and equipment become the deciding factors from that point on. Most machines also use standardized parts, allowing for a growing 'hot rod' culture. The future of Havocs is uncertain. Every day new advances in the various research groups leads to improved designs. The Grind provides as well, often in the form of salvage and inspiration, and sometimes, very rarely, in the form of complete Havocs, new models, unheard of designs and then-impossible technology.


Layered is home to a myriad of nations, mega-corporations, private enterprise, and earth-government representation. The groups listed here are only a small, but important fraction of the greater social, economic and military landscape of this artifact-world.

The Department

If you weren't born on Layered, you would have pass through the Way Station, before transferring to orbital facilities or the planet's surface. The Way Station itself is the responsibility of the most feared and loathed organization in Layered territory: The Department of Transportation. Immigration, Customs, contraband and more have swelled the government arm into a nation in and of itself, almost entirely based in space around the only usable Gate leading to Earth-controlled territories.

The Department is responsible for ensuring that everything on and around Layered, including the people, stay there. The Blockade exists to enforce this. A rapid response force of spacecraft and soldiers patrol Layered orbit, looking for pirates and smugglers.

Safe behind their armies and the support of the Earth Territories, The Department is the remote, dominant power of Layered. The massive resources availible on the planet are paltry, compared to the energy and material wealth of their parent civilization. The Department control what comes in and what comes out.

For now, The Department is content to let the various factions of Layered struggle for dominance, in the the interest of arranging an 'understanding' with the winners, instead of drawing up treaties to cover what is essentially a huge, contested territory.

Layered Institute

The unified body of higher education and research, the Layered Institute is the oldest human establishment on the artifact world. Home of the premier xenosciences division, as well as myriad think tanks and laboratories.

What it lacks in military might, it makes up for in social and economic influence. Nearly every person living on and around Layered owes some aspect of their livelyhood to the Institute, from military technology, medical advances, economic structure and philosophical advancement. Relying on its cosmopolitan nature, the university-nation gambles on the idea that 'You are us, we are you, to remove or control us hurts everyone.'

Archive 32: The Institute is home to the foremost experts in xenotech artifacts and unique Layered Phenomena, and mantains storage facilities for their findings. Archive 32 is one of the 'black box' facilities, so named not because its contents are secret, but because its they are unsettling and not yet fully understood. The most recent, publicized addition were a curious thing, known as 'Square Circles'.

The Exchange

Comprising all 'official', affiliated mercantile and industrial endeavors, the Exchange is the nation-economy of Layered. Not national economy, Nation. It is a body politic in and of itself, bound by shared standards of commerce and unified currency.

Money has no physical value on Layered, as all transactions are conveyed through a networked series of digital banks under the explicit control of the Exchange and its small army of private technicians. They serve as the bottleneck in advancement beyond Layered boundries, preventing untracable backroom dealings from outside. The Exchange maintains its own bonded private security company, tasked primarily with defending the fragile infrastructure that allows society to function.

Blood Money: The Exchange is responsible for all legal transactions witin Layered Society, but in the Forge and Grind, barter economy reigns supreme. A thriving, if risky black-market exists between the layers, aiming to 'cut out the middle man'. Those who try to move their off-the-book businesses into daylight markets suddenly find themselves in possession of a replica coin, cast in the image of the Greek Drachma.

All of them disappear shortly after, though as an attempt to evade the Exchange's agents or as a victim of them, none can say for sure. Any funds are siezed and diverted back into Exchange storage no matter the outcome, and no one has ever attempted to reclaim ownership.

Contracts are King: The Exchange is part of life for nearly every person on Layered, to either use or circumvent. One of the few things held sacrosanct in this society is the binding law of contract. Legal agreements and the like are all ratified and entered into a section of the same banking control network that covers the entire world, and is patrolled rigorously. It is not to say that all contracts are honest and fair, it's better to say that you're more likely to be shot and killed, than you are to run afoul of a badly written document.

Bagh Nakh Combine

Young, tough, and bloodthirsty, the Bagh Nakh Combine has dug into Layered with unprecedented strength. One of the primary research and development forces on the planet, the Combine sees a world of infinite potential for military applications. Their swift rise to prominence may have been due to a supposed cache of intact weapons found in The Grind. In any event, the Combine isn't going anywhere.

Unlike the other factions of Layered, the Combine is centralized in one corporate-city, housing multitudes of research stations, testing bunkers and training facilities. The Combine maintains the largets standing army on Layered, but at the moment, lacks the ability to take out their true enemy, the Department. For now their efforts are turned downward. They push their advanced technology and manpower to keep ahead of the curve.

As long as the Department and the Blockade maintain control over space, The combine above all others will have to fight the gravity well to reach them.

Though they talk a good game, the forces of the Combine may not be so vast as they seem. Intelligence shows Bagh Nakh workers swapping around insignia and serial numbering to imply greater numbers of (whatever you're calling Mechs) than they control. Anyone who has faced the Combine know they are too pragmatic to consider simple eradication of an enemy. Their designs against the Department may be the opening salvo in a campaign to subvert The Department from within, gaining control of Layered via orbital weaponry.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mechanics Draft 2: Rolls, Traits/Skills, Target Numbers

System Thoughts: Rolls, Traits and Skills:

A trait is something that is inherent to your character, a native, built-in quality. How strong you are, your agility, raw mental capacity.

Humans on average have traits that start at 2. The maximum cap for traits is 10. The soft-cap for traits is 5, because of scaling advancement costs.

Skills are learned functions, driving/piloting, marksmanship, etc. A skill has an unlearned, rank 0 state, and then 3 ranks: Student, Intermediate, Expert.

There are two kinds of Skill tests, trained and untrained. If a character has no ranks in a skill, they attempt the action with [1d10+trait]. Trained characters instead roll [2d10+Trait+Rank]

Target Numbers:

Target Numbers are determined in Increments of 5: 5, 10, 15, 20, etc.

Human scale action deals in TNs that rarely approach 25, even though it's possible to have [2d10+Trait+Skill Rank]. Humans can achieve an ideal roll of 35, but you're more likely to see results of 5-15.

Mecha scale action has TNs that are 15+, because piloting a mech imparts a minimum pool of 3d10, even if you aren't trained in a relevant skill. Training adds 1d10 to the pool, for a total of [4d10+Trait+Rank].

Mechs can also spend power to add more dice, or have more elaborate equipment and upgrades which provides other bonuses.

Opposing Forces and Secrecy: It's assumed that the game master will treat NPCs as opaque; that is to say, all NPC rolls occur behind a game screen unless instructed otherwise.

Players cannot inherently know the opponent's various traits without first dedicating effort to discerning them.

Target numbers and Secrecy: In general, it's assumed that all TNs are obvious and players can make informed decisions about how to manage their resources. Related to above, if

TN is generated by a defending character, the roll is hidden, the result is not. I.E. the players don't know how many dice the opponent rolls, or how high their traits are/what perks they have to achieve the TN.

However, in the event that a TN IS hidden, a player may attempt to discern the TN before attempting the action. We'll go into this more later.

Target Numbers and Automatic Successes: If a character's Trait+Skill Rank is greater than or equal to a TN, they pass uncontested rolls automatically. Contested actions are ALWAYS rolled.

The 'Sweet Spot' and Difficulty:

In Thermal Shock, the 'Sweet Spot' refers to the statistical average of 2 or more die being rolled, adding any static modifiers. There's a lesson that many high schools use,where students roll 2d6 and graph the results. 2 and 12 are the least commonly occuring numbers, while 7 is the most common, due to how many possible ways two numbers add up to seven. 1+6, 2+5, 3+4, etc.

In this game, anything over the TN is a success, so the 'average' roll gives you a roughly 55% of succeeding. I'm going to spare you the actual statistical modeling and just give you rough estimates for difficulty.

  • TN 5: Trivial - There is a chance of failure but it is minimal.
  • TN 10: Standard: Untrained characters often fail doing difficult tasks, and even trained ones have issues sometimes. This is the most standard difficulty for human-scale action.
  • TN 15: Challenging: Trained characters using perks and wits can tackle these tests. This is the lowest difficulty that occurs in mecha action.
  • TN 20: Incredible: For a human to attempt this is insane, to succeed is the stuff of legends. This is equivalent to Standard difficulty for mecha action.
  • TN 25: Legendary:
  • TN 30+: Epic:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Draft Mechanics Part 1: Basic Task Resolution

Here are, in the most bare bones forms, the base mechanics of TS. These are rough, uncut and unpolished. View them at your own risk:

The core resolution mechanic is based on [Xd10 + Trait] versus some form of Target Number. If you meet or exceed the target number, you succeed. There are no 'Roll Under' checks, as of this draft.

Humans, as a baseline, only ever get 1d10 before tools and the like.  For example, A human who wants to fire a weapon, rolls 1d10+Marksmanship, against a TN.

Traits are, for the moment, assumed to max out at 5, so you can never get more than 15 on any dice roll before modifiers.

System Level Goals

What are System Level Goals?

 A What are System Level Goal, in this context, is the guiding principle or direction you want to go in a game. It's asking the questions like: "Do I want to make a game where its very easy to die?" or "Do I want a game that focuses primarily on court intrigue, ignoring physical combat?"

So what are the What are System Level Goals?

  • Above all the game should be fun, but that's subjective, so I'll just have to do the best I can.
  • Combat should be fast and fluid, and in intended to handle battles between 3-5 PCs and an equal number of NPCs.
  • Provide rules for both human-level action and mecha action. This includes non-combat rules and meaningful goals and objectives outside of beating other mechs.
  • Dying as a human is easy, dying in a mech is hard.
    Example: Mechs can have their limbs and weapons blown off far more readily than anything else, resulting in a 'mission kill'.

Welcome to Thermal Shock

What is Thermal Shock?

Thermal Shock, or TS for short, is a prototype TTRPG ruleset, primarily created as a means to hone my own game design skills, and to spread awareness of my skills. I also hope to make sure people have fun!

The name is currently a working title, but for now, TS will do.

What do you do in Thermal Shock?

In this game, you and your friends play as pilots of advanced combat vehicles, a giant robot or some similar form of mecha. You and your fellow players serve as a small squad of trained, experienced badasses. Are you Soldiers? Mercenaries or Pirates? Private Security? No matter what you are, you ride in some of the baddest pieces of military hardware around.

Project Goals:

  • Create a fast, easy to resolve combat rules for cinematic battles
  • Allow for extensive customization of player characters and their iconic battle machines
  • Develop enough of a compelling world to give players a reason to play Thermal Shock.

About Me

I am Shyft, artist, game designer, all around reasonably cool person. Feel free to email any comments to