Shock:Social Science Fiction debuted at Gen Con 2006. It was my second published roleplaying game, and, among the many things I’ve built in the course of my life, one of my favorites.
It’s time to think hard about what I want Shock: to do, to pull it apart, to refine the parts that work toward my objectives, and to replace the parts that don’t. You can help me do that by subscribing to xenoglyph!
The first game I published was Under the Bed, which I’d made specifically to unfurl my wings, to go all the way from egg to larva to pupa to full-fledged adult — but without the weight of it being the thing I cared about most.
But even as I hammered through early playtests of UtB, I knew I was building up to the game that Shock: was to become. It’s a game about the things I care about most: the impact of social forms like technologies, philosophies, and discoveries have on the lives of we humans — humans who have learned to use inbuilt structures that evolved to find berries, coöperate to fell a mammoth, and sex each other up, to discern the structures of the universe.
The title is a direct reference to Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, which has proven itself to be prescient in an amazing number of ways. Shock:Social Science Fiction uses the TRPG medium to explore many ideas, but the biggest one — the one issue baked into the game that any table of players will find themselves facing, whatever it says on the left edge of their Grid — is you can never go home again. Shock: is about what happens to you as the shockwave of the future collides with what your protagonist thought was a stable world. Will they learn to surf the shockwave? Or will they be crushed by it? Either way, it will change them. And, whether through their resistance or through their embrasure, they will change it.
Over the last 11 years (!), Shock: has had an impact on roleplaying design that I’m really proud of. You see it mentioned in the bibliographies of its indie brethren like Microscope, Questlandia, and Mars Colony, but you also see it informing big, splatbook-heavy lines like Eclipse Phase. I see its lessons learned in every game that cares about what a society looks like, and that makes me really proud.
But also, over the last 11 years, some very smart people have taken some big steps in RPG design. The most obvious sea change has been the impact that Vincent and Meg Baker’s Apocalypse World and the Apocalypse Engine have had. Epidiah Ravachol’s Vast & Starlit and its even-tinier mama, What Is A Roleplaying Game? are similarly instructive in their innovative rediscovery of the nature of creative collaboration. Emily Care Boss’ Romance Trilogy has broken new ground in conducting the social interactions between players at the table.
So I’ve got a series of documents to write. I know what the first few will be, and I’d like to be able to share them with you as I go.
- Deconstructing the Future: A living document of critical analysis of Shock: I’ve played it a lot over the last decade and have noticed some things about where the game works well and where it doesn’t. There are some hacks I use that have never made it into the game, too, and I want to finally make those public. I swear, I wasn’t keeping them secret! I just didn’t have it in me to actually write them down. This article will be a set of my observations — some of which I’m not consciously aware of yet — about the game.
- Space Stations to Die On: Some elements of Shock: remain critically important to my creative objectives with the game. Some parts fall down. Here, I’m going to assemble the lessons I’ve learned into specification for Shock:2. I’ve got some basic ideas about processes and mechanics that I hope to make concrete. Space Stations to Die On will include playable ideas, microgames that express some of those ideas, for the xenophiliacs who support the xenoglyph Patreon!
- Hyperdimensionality: Shock: has always been designed to support the players’ creativity, making sure that their setting cares about what they care about. But the specifics of such a setting are often only beautiful in the specific. So, while Shock:2 will continue to encourage setting creation, I’ll be going into detail here about how to make enduring, rich settings that are worth sharing with each other. Hyperdimensionality will also include playable microgames for my xenophiliac supporters of the xenoglyph Patreon!
- Into the Unknowable: By this point, the design of Shock:2 will have a momentum of its own. Every design principle will have its own microgames for the xenophiliacs to play with, and I look forward to their feedback! I’ll keep posting new levels, so please tell your friends across social media, at conventions, and at your game nights to come support xenoglyph with dollars and shares!
This is a big project for me! Publishing is the lion’s share of my income, and that means that, like a lot of creators, I struggle to pay my bills. You can help me create and eat every day by subscribing to xenoglyph and making so I can afford to make art that helps you make art!