A search for wonder with Hypertellurians

I’ve been given the chance to review a PDF copy of Mottokrosh Machination’s new science fantasy stand-alone RPG – Hypertellurians. Drawing inspiration from vast array of retro influences such as Conan’s Hyborian Age to John Carter’s Barsoom, this system (and setting) really pushes the envelope. So grab your ray gun, or sorcerer’s staff, and board this aethership as we’ve bad guys to thwart, and wonders to explore.

The look and feel

The front cover kick-starts the imagination and wonderfully sets up the overall tone and ‘feel’ of this system and setting. Who are these individuals? What is their story? We all know the proverb that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all also know that we do! With so many books on the market you need something to stand out. Visually, this book has that “something” in spades.

Whilst skimming over I couldn’t help but be reminded of browsing the science fiction and fantasy section of the local library as a child. All those old editions with their yellowing paper and scenes of derring-do and adventure. Crediting the likes of Vallejo and Frazetta as inspiration, this definitely tugs hard on the nostalgia. For someone like me, I instantly knew what the author was trying to achieve and settled in really quickly. There’s a risk that some younger readers won’t find the same fondness for the retro style but they should definitely give it a go.

Android Police

Inside there’s some fabulous design and flourishes which really add to the overall effect. The way that fold-lines have been added to random pages or how there are dings which make it ‘feel’ like you’re holding an old module or classic edition. There are tear lines that reveal text underneath and an almost scrap book effect where some art is not centred. All nice touches which aren’t hammy or overdone. Art is always a matter of personal taste and there’s a variety in here to cater for everyone. Although it all hearkens back to a different time, there’s also a more welcome, modern slant.

Them rules then…

If you are looking for a lot of ‘cunch’ with complex combat simulation and skill trees or table after table of feat progression, you’ll not find that here. Whilst not a game system I would place in the basic rules-lite category, Hypertellurians provides a simple framework for collaborative storytelling and adventures. Anyone who has played any form of DnD will feel familiar with the general idea – roll a d20 and beat a target number.

Key Principles

This leads us on nicely to the key principles of the system. Something I’m seeing more and more of nowadays is a better summary of the ‘intent’ of a game. I used to have umpteen core books for different systems on my shelves that would spend pages describing what a roleplaying game was. I’m not bashing the need for that in some cases, it just often explained the how and not the why. Here, we dispense with the ‘what’ and are given a better understanding of why we’d use these rules.

Whip off!

Hypertellurians is built around a permissive core mechanic. If in doubt revert back to this to solve disputes or conflicts. In saying that however, always go with the most interesting option. Between this and the intentional openness of aspects of the rules, some may sense a bit of a cop out. Rather than provide detail, the author has just been vague. Ultimately, that’ll depend on your view point. I personally end up dispensing with a lot of rules in systems because I don’t like a specific or, more frequently, I forget. If your gaming group is open to the idea and looking at the end goal then it’s more than adequate. I really like this approach but have experienced a number of gamers who admittedly would find the lack of optimisation and nitty-gritty details off-putting. Still, to each their own and embracing diversity is surely a good thing!

Character Creation

The largest chunk of this book is taken over by character creation. Rightfully so, if you are going to allow everything from time-lost human warriors to undead alien shamans and all the weird and wonderful in-between. There’s a lot on the market at the moment claiming to allow you to create anything and everything you want but what I like here is the intrinsically powerful nature of the characters. Indeed, one of the specific GM tips, is to be a fan. These player characters aren’t lowly nobodies starting out on their adventuring career, no these are Hypertellurians! Wondrous quixotic individuals able to wield magics and escape the direst of situations. We’re talking about the likes of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, not trooper 1138 after all.

Simply put, each character will have three stats – Brawn, Agility, and Mind. These will be determined by your archetype. You’ll also have some powers based on your concept, and some equipment. You’ll want to think of a motivation or drive that fuels your desire to adventure. Are you seeking power, wealth, or even love? Or are you just up for some good old fashioned revenge!? With all of that, you’ll be ready to go.

The Archetypes

‘Royals’ by Karen Reding

To capture the range of options out there in the Ultracosm (because multiverse doesn’t conjure the same vibe) the book provides enough to shoe horn in any idea you could conceivably want, to reasonable limits. If you fancy playing a self-aware golem or rogue combat automaton then construct would be the archetype you’re looking for. How about a space faring pirate queen? Well, you can either chose royal or ultranaut. Each archetype provides three different concepts to help assign your stats and then a selection of powers. Of course, you can go rogue and create something from scratch. For this there’s the random rolling method or point buy to keep everything roughly in line.

Actions and Combat

I alluded to the core mechanic earlier and it’s dead simple. As your character will have the three stats, you pick the one that is most relevant to the task at hand. Say you need to push open the blocked gate to the riding lizard pen. Well, that sounds like a Brawn check. Take your modifier, that’s your score minus 10, roll a d20 and add them together. If your Brawn was 13 and you rolled a 12, thats a total of 15 (13-10 + 12). Compare this with the GMs target number and its a pass/fail outcome. If its an opposed check you can even just use the target’s ability score as your target.

Pew pew of ray guns or clang of steel on steel

Combat is equally simple yet captures everything I’d want. Don’t get me wrong, there are systems that cater to a great deal of combat complexity and simulation that I love, but for high adventure, this is spot-on.

Building on the basic mechanic, players choose if they’d like to act fast or regular. If you act fast you get a single action but go first. Act regularly and you get two actions but anyone acting fast will go before you. In addition, rather than worry too much about mind-mapping combat to the nth degree, Hypertellurians uses rough distance, close, short, and long. Close is anything up to a few steps away. Short would take an action to cover, and long is up to 2 actions away. In this way, a GM could say that the beastman brandishing the club is close to you whilst the saurian rider is racing away and is 100m or so. You know that’s greater than long so even acting regularly it’s unlikely you’ll chase them down.

Damage doesn’t have a specific stat of its own. Instead you keep track of the damage through your stats. With a couple of tables to allow for additional effects I feel this keeps play fast and relevant. You don’t need to do a lot of book-keeping and you can shrug off a fair amount. However, if you get in too deep then there’ll be hell to pay.

A wonderful world

If you haven’t clicked by my over-use of ‘wonder’ the game utilises this a means of special ability use and advancement. Rather than track experience, you and your party will track the wonder that you acquire and spend. Discover a new place of power or encounter a new tribe of aether nomads and you may well gain wonder which you can use to trigger wondrous actions. When you spend a certain amount of wonder you advance which means its a tidy mechanic overall.

Overall thoughts

If I was to be completely honest I’d have to say that something like this wouldn’t normally be my go-to game. In saying that, I’ve recently started playing some old school modules with a bunch of old gamers looking to rekindle that joy of games we played as young teens. For a group like that, this is an ideal addition to the repertoire. For those for whom there isn’t the same background in the classics of literature and gaming, we also play a lot of Magic the Gathering. I know there are official Dungeons and Dragons supplements for that, but this has me stroking the beard and pondering a way to get folks to try more new games.

Lady with Panther. Equally at home with magic or technology.

This game looks fun to play and run. There’s nothing that I found instantly jarring or worrisome in the rules. Whilst reading it, my mind went on some tangents thinking about how I could incorporate x or y. Put all this together in an affordable and, importantly, nice-looking package and you’ve got something definitely worth picking up. I’m certainly going to be roping the gang into giving this a go.

A web version of the game’s rules can be found here as well as purchasing the pdf or printed version. All art used here is from the Mottokrosh Machinations website.
Let us know what you think of the game in the comments below or join the discussion over on our Facebook page.

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