My dear unknown friend,
Last year while reading OSR blogs I ran across a review of James Mac George’s Black Sun DeathCrawl. Intrigued by what I read I purchased a copy. I quickly fell in love with the game and that led to a review and interview with Mac George published here on Lovecraft eZine. As I said in the interview with Mac George, one of the facets that impressed me with BSDC was how he, “took the Gnostic mythos and amplified it through a Liggotian lens.” During the course of that interview Mac George told me, “Steve Bean, who has written a few modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics, reached out to me shortly after the release to say how much he loved it, and would I mind if he did his own thing with it. He’s already released the fantastic Null Singularity, a riff on BSDC using the Thief class as it’s jumping off point and re-imagining the scenario as a group of Voidants hurtling through space in a decaying spaceship.” The idea of BSDC in space was too good to pass up so I emailed Steve about obtaining a copy. (I have to admit I’m old enough I enjoy having physical copies so I frequently plonk down the extra ducats for such.) Steve Bean, as with the majority of people I have met within our corner of the world, is a very generous person and emailed me the PDF rules to accompany the hard copy.
Like its predecessor, Null Singularity is based on the DCC rule set though it can be easily modified to whatever d20 system you feel most conversant with. DCC has the benefit of a tight, efficient rules system whose lengthy play testing through thousands of hours at conventions large and small across the US is not only legendary but shows through in its steadily growing popularity and the quality of its releases. Steve Bean set out to create a one-shot con adventure with Null Singularity that plays within three to five hours and captures the spirit and flavor of James Mac George’s Black Sun DeathCrawl. Steve’s own description of the game’s milieu:
“In NULL SINGULARITY, players take on the role of Voidants, 70s-eras space travelers who left the Earth to flee from the Null Singularity – an apocalyptic entity that is, at once, a massive black hole and a “long-dark night of the soul.” For an unknown period of time – decades or even centuries – the Voidants of the Alektryon mission have played hide-and-seek with the Null Singularity across the cosmos, but today is the day it has caught up with them… or has it?”
All characters within Null Singularity are based upon the thief class and all tasks are made using the appropriate skill checks. “In gameplay situations, select the Thief skill that best translates to a modern technological context, eg; Find Trap to diagnose an equipment malfunction, Disable Trap to repair a malfunction, or Forge Document to reprogram a Machine Pilot.”
In maintaining the bleak tone of its predecessor there are no character names, each PC, known as a Voidant, is referred to by their ship name and then a random number. At the beginning of the game each Voidant is kitted out with standard survival gear. A random roll is made to see how many pieces of this gear are damaged and how badly. Every 30 minutes another such check is made. Every 20 minutes your oxygen supply diminishes.
While reading through the 53 page zine my mind was racing with possibilities (see this article I mentioned in my previous review of BSDC on the joys of ergodic literature) and just as importantly I couldn’t wait to share the news with you beautiful people that here was another RPG that captured the essence of cosmic horror. However I always want to make sure I actually play through these games first before reviewing them. Too often I find RPGs that sound great on paper and then fall flat on execution, mired in endless chart flipping, strange rules and inexplicable quandaries that only seem to arise when a player goes, “Well what if?” leaving one to go, “You know, I never thought of that when I was simply reading the book.”
With the onset of convention season the window of opportunity arose as the GM for our Saturday morning game hit the road for a month of appearances. Steve Bean provides an excellent scenario within the book, Entropy Terminates Complexity, about the plight of the VoidArk Alektryon, yet seeing as how James Mac George would be playing in the sessions and I knew Steve had sent him a copy of the game upon its completion I wanted to keep an element of surprise and wrote a new scenario concerning the VoidArk Agrippa traversing the far edges of a supermassive black hole only to discover a ghost ship drifting like the Mary Celeste in space.
The beauty of Null Singularity is that the grace and simplicity of the rule design allows the imagination of Steve Bean to shine through. This in turn makes it quite easy to lift sections as if using a modular system to create your own adventures. The VoidArk Agrippa’s traversal across the far edges of the gravitational field of the black hole places extreme stress upon the hull with dangers of catastrophic failure on every turn, of course with its own random chart to roll upon. The quantum fluctuation caused by destruction on such a massive scale caused Agrippa-465 to display signs of OCD as a coping mechanism. When the Voidants took a probe ship to examine the derelict VoidArk they discovered the docking ports had been modified necessitating a VoidWalk. Agripa-665 suffered bouts of paranoid schizophrenia upon witnessing the vastness of the abyss with nothing but her suit between her and absolute oblivion. Which did nothing to alleviate the already mounting tension over the dwindling oxygen supply because someone kept failing to extinguish an electrical fire…
All of which would lead one to think this would play out grimdark as all hell and maybe it would have given a different set of players but with this group it resembled John Carpentar’s Dark Star more than anything else. Yes, the sense of mounting doom and approaching peril was always present but when Agrippa-465 was portraying the effects of OCD to be met with, “Sure, as if that’s anything different,” well, you get the picture. Then again, consider the amount of wisecracks within the Alien franchise and perhaps this humor was not so out-of-place after all. Oh yes, XenoHorrors are very much present within the Null Singularity universe. Do not fret dear heart.
Steve Bean has created a game that does exactly as described on the tin. Perfect for a one-shot 3 to 5 hour game yet perfectly capable of being tweaked and modified for additional scenarios as you see fit. It hews true as an homage to the vision of Mac George’s Black Sun DeathCrawl while carving out its own unique territory and vision. As Mac George also noted in my interview with him Steve has also recently released a one shot, Rock God Death-Fugue, that uses a doomed rock band on their final tour as its jumping off point to further explore the BSDC theme. Based on the strengths of Null Singularity I can’t wait to play that one as well.
As a soundtrack here is a mix I created to set the mood for last Saturday’s game.
This review was written by Acep Hale.