“The bleeding edge of technology cuts through the darkness and reveals the divine”

Moon Ji-ho surveyed the battlefield, his visor’s HUD overlaying the scorched landscape and severed limbs with digital readouts, informing him that the Humanist Rebellion patrol squad that his Cultists had ambushed had been reduced to three remaining Echoes. To his right he saw four Acolytes charging towards the nearest enemy and his AI neural unit showed him an 88% chance of a favourable engagement outcome.

He set his sights on the two Echoes ahead of him; the first was injured and was being tended to by the second. Moon Ji-ho calculated that the optimal strategy was to fire off a grenade and then rush the unsuspecting units. As his bio-arm absorbed the recoil of the phosphorous launcher, his massive bulk was raised into the air by the tentacle-like mechanical limbs that emerged from the powered harness encircling him.

Three of the tentacles darted forward like spiders’ legs, carrying Moon Ji-ho at high speed, his flowing robes billowing around his suspended legs. As he powered through the smoke from his grenade, he found the injured Echo was now little more than a still-steaming mound of flesh and bone on the ground, whilst the other was scrambling to raise its rifle towards him through the damage of its own burns. His free mechanical tentacle flew forwards and crashed into the Echo’s face before it had the chance to fire its weapon, his metal claws tearing through the flesh and bio-matter of the newly limp Echo.

Moon Ji-ho looked at the slaughtered remains of the enemies of the Cult and was pleased. He loudly chanted a prayer to the Dragon in the direction of the three remaining Acolytes and they enthusiastically shouted the words back at him. His neural interface auto-administered a local anaesthetic to his right leg where he noticed a deep six inch gash and his adrenalin was re-balanced so he could begin the long journey back to their temple in a state of calm meditation, ready to pass on the news of this latest glorious victory.

Shattered Earth - Biomancer - Concept ArtConcept art by Iwo Widuliński

Biomancers are the tech-priests of the Cult; half surgeon and half preacher. They occupy a place of relative reverence in part due to their extreme devotion to body augmentation, and their ability to manipulate technology. They are the walking embodiment of all the Cult strives to achieve – forced evolution without the cloying interference of morality.

Each Biomancer has a unique set of augmentations, but all utilise a powered harness of some kind, usually a series of mechanical tentacles in addition to or in replacement of standard human limbs. These tentacles offer unparalleled flexibility when working, and can be used to pin opponents in combat and literally tear them apart.

In addition to these close-range cybernetic enhancements, Biomancers use medium-range projectiles as a deterrent, favouring the inaccurate but highly-effective phosphorous launcher. This is sometimes housed within the tentacle armature if used in place of a limb, but is sometimes carried like a regular firearm. The phosphorous launcher is a ‘shock and awe’ weapon, delivering incendiary grenades that burn flesh and armour alike, giving the Biomancer a chance to get away or to soften up an enemy before a brutal melee attack.

Shattered Earth Rules 101

We said early on in the development of Shattered Earth that there were three pillars which would define the game: the universe, the miniatures, and the rules. We’ve talked a lot about the first two over the past few months and, despite a recent Closed Alpha playtest, less about the game itself. So this week, instead of a new miniature reveal, I’d like to present something of a ‘rules reveal’.

Now, with a game as detailed as Shattered Earth, there isn’t nearly enough space to cover every mechanic in a single blog post. Instead, I will break down the core tenets of the game over a series of posts, and answer any specific questions in the comments. The first thing we are going to look at is the basic dice roll mechanic, which we call a test.

A test is made using one or more ten-sided dice (d10) to form a test pool. If a dice comes up as a 7 or higher it counts as a success; if it comes up as a 6 or lower it counts as a failure. In addition, a 0 counts as two successes, and a 1 counts as two failures. Whenever you make a test you are looking to score a certain number of net successes. This target number is defined by the task you are attempting to perform, or by your opponent’s result in an opposed test.

An opposed test is by far the most common dice roll you will make when playing Shattered Earth. Both players will roll their test pools and compare the number of net successes each makes, with the player having the most success overall ‘winning’ the test and succeeding at performing whatever action they were attempting. Let’s take shooting at another model as an example.

John is playing the Cult of the Dragon and has advanced an Acolyte up the board. Simon has a UNM Coyote Assault Trooper in waiting, and activates this model on his turn. Simon declares that he will make a ranged attack action; taking a few wounds off the Acolyte before it gets into charge range will certainly help to even the odds.

The Coyote Assault Trooper has a Ranged Attack Value (RAV) of 5, meaning that Simon’s initial test pool for the ranged attack is 5 dice. John’s Acolyte of the Dragon has a Defence Value (DV) of 3, meaning that John’s pool is 3 dice. If there were no other modifiers to this attack, both players would simply roll their dice and compare the result. But let’s say that John’s Acolyte is behind a low wall, and Simon’s Coyote cannot draw line of sight to that Acolyte without it crossing the wall. In this case, we can say that the Acolyte is obscured and, as such, gains +1 DV against ranged attacks. However, Simon’s Coyote was well prepared; not only has it gone prone, it also took the time to aim, gaining +2 RAV overall. The final modified test pools are therefore 7 dice for Simon and 4 for John.

Ranged Attack Test = RAV + Modifiers vs. DV + Modifiers

Continuing our example above, with his 7 dice Simon rolls 3 hits and 4 misses and with his 4 dice John rolls only 1 hit and three misses, therefore Simon scores 2 net successes on the test, meaning that his Coyote has successfully hit the Acolyte. We now need to make a damage test to determine if the hit causes any wounds. The Coyote’s Assault Rifle has a Damage Value (DMG) of 5, and the Acolyte’s Armour Value (AV) is 4. We add the 2 net successes from the ranged attack test to the weapon’s DMG value, giving Simon 7 dice versus John’s 4. But remember that wall John’s Acolyte was standing behind? Within 1″ of the wall the Acolyte can claim soft cover, giving it +1 AV, and 5 dice overall.

Damage Test = Net Successes + DMG + Modifiers vs. AV + Modifiers

We feel that adding and removing dice from the pool is much cleaner and more efficient than adding and subtracting numbers from a target figure, removing the need for complicated maths for every roll. And, using our custom d10s with clearly designed hit and miss symbols, resolving even the most intricate combat scenario is a piece of cake.

I hope that gives you a good feel for how most conflict resolution is achieved in Shattered Earth. We have made the core mechanics as simple to understand as possible, whilst providing ample room for creative experimentation. One thing to note is that all modifiers in a given situation are applied directly to your own model; you never have to work out what your opponent’s model is doing – you simply work out your own test pool and roll the dice. That means less time debating, and more time playing.

Drekavacs, the Scurriers

“A door was left ajar. And through that door, darkness poured out.”

Shattered Earth - Drekavacs - Concept ArtConcept art by Marco Caradonna

As the last of the day’s light winked out from behind the trees, Iosif closed his door and set the latches. There was a chill in the night, he thought; the snows would come early this year. He took up the lantern and carried it through into the main room of the cabin, setting it down on the centre of the wooden table. He fetched his pipe and tobacco from the inside pocket of his jacket, and began to pack the small clay bowl. The light from the lantern flickered slightly, casting unusual shadows against the walls. Iosif stopped momentarily and sniffed the air. The moment passed and he set to packing his pipe again.

The sudden gust of wind nearly knocked Iosif off his feet, scattering books and ornaments and taking the pipe from his hand. An orange light flew across the room and died against the wall as the lantern shattered. The wind was followed by the strong, acrid smell of meat left too long on the spit. As Iosif steadied himself and his eyes adjusted to the near-darkness inside the cabin, he caught sight of a dull grey-green light spilling out from his bedroom. Pulling himself upright, he made his way out through the doorway.

What greeted him was a sight he could scarcely believe. Where his bedroom had once stood there was now nothing – a vast hole had been carved out of the surrounding material, as if a massive sphere had simply deleted whatever was there before. In the centre of the sphere, suspended several metres above the ground, was a pulsing greenish ball of what looked for all the world like electricity. As the ball pulsed it cast strange shadows across the broken earth, shapes that made Iosif’s mind reel, but he could not comprehend the source of these penumbra.

Making the sign of the cross, Iosif began to back away. It was then that he heard the first terrified scream, followed by another, then shouts of alarm and the sharp crack of gunfire. He turned to run and was suddenly engulfed by many limbs, barbed and hooking deep into his flesh, dragging him down into the wet dirt. His own scream soon joined the others, but was cut short, dying in his throat as the darkness enveloped him.

Sculpting by Glauco Longhi

In Slavic mythology, Drekavacs are said to be the souls of unbaptised children cursed to roam the world forever. In Shattered Earth, they are the lowliest foot-soldiers of the Deathless. Whether the old myth is true or not is largely irrelevant; whatever ‘role’ they once had has now been largely forgotten. Instead, ‘Dreks’ as they are called by most of humanity were the first beings from the immateria to set foot on Earth after the Breaking of the World – the herald of what was to come.

They manifest as small bipedal creatures, more bone and sinew than most Shadow-aspected Deathless, their smokey-skin stretched tight across their forms. They are utterly alien, devoid of reason save for the instinct to hunt and kill, swarming over their prey and tearing them limb from limb. On its own, a single Drekavac poses little problem for a trained soldier, but in numbers they can decimate the unprepared.

Constructive Criticism

As I have not worked in manufacturing or an industry where I produce tangible physical products, most of what I have ‘delivered’ in my day-job for the last 15 years has been a service or a presentation or written report. In managing staff who have (usually) provided their own services, I have often been in a binary situation where something is right or wrong; an application is either behaving as expected or it isn’t. So when a user can’t log in to a system or a financial transaction has gone through but nothing arrives in a client’s account, it is very clear what our end result should be.

Getting used to how it works in the games industry while interacting with our artists and sculptors has taken some time. I’ve been looking for the best way to offer constructive feedback to people who provide a physical finished product. There are rarely objective rights and wrongs when it comes to art or design and so all of our discussions have been discussing small, incremental changes to reach a goal that is not at all explicit, being as it lives in the heads of Simon and myself.

We have been incredibly lucky that the talent of all our collaborators is so obvious and the quality of their work so fantastic. Their skills seem almost alien to me, the ability to create drawings and models with such great detail and character, simply from the descriptions and feedback that we provide over email and instant message. It has sometimes been difficult for me to tell them when I’d like things changing. I feel like I, with my utter inability to draw, paint or sculpt, should have no right to question these hugely talented artists. I worry that suggesting changes is insulting their skills.

Thankfully, all of our collaborators are very secure in their own abilities and more than happy to engage in active discussions on the direction of their work. They have been extremely receptive during the conversations about the modifications and changes of directions that we have requested of them. This has made my job very easy and confirmed our opinion that it is worth paying for the best, most professional collaborators. Not only is the standard of their work high, but interacting with them is a pleasure and the process of design very much a collaborative effort.

It also makes me realise how sometimes products come to market that are less than stellar. They might not simply be a case of bad or lazy design; there may have been less experienced people involved or corners cut on materials. Perhaps the brief wasn’t clear or maybe people were simply too polite when it came to offering criticism, and they held their tongue when they should have pushed back. Either way, I hope I know what to do if I experience one of these tricky situations but my preference would be to keep hiring the best people so that I never have to.