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Suldokar's Wake

·1481 words·7 mins

Suldokar’s Wake is a science fiction role-playing game set in the far future of an ancient world. The players take on the roles of adventurers in a game of monster fighting, techno-scavenging, mystery, intrigue and discovery.

Note: This is part 1 of a series on Suldokar’s Wake. For a list of posts about this RPG check here.

I’m always looking at new role-playing games. I find myself falling down rabbit holes all the time, going from one RPG to the next. It’s kind of a collection of mine. I’ve recently found Whitehack and through that I also found Suldokar’s Wake. Both are written by Christian Mehrstam, a Swedish independent game designer.

I really like Whitehack and I’ll write about it soon, but it’s much more widely known and there is more information on it than there is on Suldokar’s Wake (SW), so I decided to write up a series on SW to give it the spotlight it deserves.

Suldokar’s Wake is so interesting! I’m fascinated by it for many reasons. The first reason is that it is so different than other RPGs I’ve seen, and different in so many ways. You might think that it’s just that I usually only look at similar RPGs, but I don’t think so. For example, here is the “level progression table” for one of the “classes.”

Core Graph
core graph

Cool, isn’t it? And different! And it’s only one example. Almost every aspect of this game is surprising, from the dice rolls to the namespace it uses. Suldokar’s Wake is published as a periodical, with five issues at the time of this writing. The Core Arc (issues #1 through #4) has also been collected in a single omnibus volume.

What is it? #

So what is Suldokar’s Wake? It’s a planetary sci-fi RPG. Planetary in the sense that the action is limited to a single planet, as opposed to a sector or more of a galaxy as in Traveller, for example. It has a Dying Earth vibe (without the fantasy part) and is in fact closer in terms of setting to Numenera. It is a planet that has known many civilizations, alien occupations, and is now in a somewhat post-apocalyptic state. Here’s the description from the omnibus.

The player characters are capable individuals, drawn into the unfolding events of an alien invasion. This is the hail-of-bullets, solid hologram, sentient storm kind of science fiction, where resources are scarce, high-tech items are old and worn and any hero worth her salt will have a few implants to up her chances. It is a broad scope game that alternates monster fighting and techno-scavenging with mystery, faction wars and exploration.

Characters #

A character is defined by its type (somewhat related to what other RPGs would call a class), its life-form (similar to race), and its background (or vocation, which defines another part of what other RPGs call a class, like skills and modifiers).

Even if you don’t count differences in stats, equipment, formulæ, specific keyword choices, innate abilities, resistances and vulnerabilities—which could all make otherwise similar character builds considerably different—there are 168 ways to combine the character’s main components of type, life-form and background.

Types #

Your type defines how your character progresses, its mechanical approaches to what happens in the game, while your background defines what your character knows and is good at. The types are:

  • apt which are oriented towards expertise and equipment;
  • core which are oriented towards nanites and other mysteries of Zira-Ka (the planet);
  • prime which are oriented towards combat and physique.

I discuss types in more details in part 4.

Life-forms #

The life-form of a character gives it a physical shape, immunities, resistances and vulnerabilities, as well as modifiers to attributes (called stacks). Life-forms are:

  • bloods are the default humans;
  • aliens look like bloods in most respects, but their bodies live in symbiosis with an alien species. There are two alien versions: the palp alien and the amphibious alien;
  • tank born are sterile bloods that were bio-engineered. All have one out of three enhancements: Archive, Bulk or Morph;
  • constructs are either droids (machines) or holids (solid holograms).

I discuss life-forms in more details in part 6.

Backgrounds #

Backgrounds are stereotypes based on common in-game world views. But as rules, they are also part of what makes up an archetype or a custom character. Each background can be seen as a knowledge area relevant to adventures in Suldokar’s Wake. A background gives the character keywords which are skill sets. It also gives you modifiers to stacks. Backgrounds are:

  • enforcer -> hired fighting power;
  • diplomat -> a character who operates between factions: the negotiator, the messenger, the spy;
  • entertainer -> a wandering story-teller, a local song house star, a traveling writer, a juggler, a poet or some other æsthetic crafts-person that people are willing to pay for;
  • cultist -> a character that holds or held a position in a cult;
  • fixer -> someone who acquires, negotiates, fixes, hacks, drives and fences stuff that other people can’t or won’t;
  • outrider -> someone who braves the wilderness;
  • archivist -> someone who is about knowledge, but also about going out in the field to get that knowledge;
  • worker -> someone used to dealing with plenty of hardships and is good at improvising.

I discuss backgrounds in more details in part 5.

Keywords #

Keywords represent abilities your character has, things she knows about, contacts she may have, etc. You associate a keyword with a stack (attribute) that corresponds to how your character mostly uses the keyword knowledge.

Keywords allow double rolls (advantage 1), allow action rolls that would otherwise have been denied and let you avoid half rolls (disadvantage).

I discuss keywords in more details in part 5.

Stacks #

The stacks are basic attributes, such as how smart, strong or adaptable the character is. The scores increase with life-form and background, and the term “stack” comes from the option to increase them even further with implants and software. But stacks also have a base which is decided by dice rolls.

Archive is the ability to use lore, whether traditional, mystical or scientific. It is used to deal with languages, science, Zyu scrolls, rituals and archives, whether digital, artifactual or biologic.

Bulk is how well the character takes advantage of her body mass—volume, height, weight and muscle.

Ghost represents will, soul, intuition, mental resistance, æsthetic sense and grit.

Morph is the ability to notice and adapt to changing circumstances. It is used in transformations, digitizations and some detection rolls, but it is also used socially to have or hide charisma and to sense and influence the attitudes of others.

Speed represents things like fitness, agility, balance and speed. It is used for action tasks, such as running, jumping, climbing or balancing, and to determine who goes first in combat.

Tech is the ability to deal hands on with technology that is unusual in some manner—ancient, alien, rare, complicated, dangerous or simply broken. It is also used to build things from parts, which is a very important aspect of life on Zira-Ka.

Close and Ranged Combat are complementary stacks used to determine the character’s chances of hitting an enemy in melee or at a distance, respectively. The scores change with type, life-form, background and implants. However they are not rolled like other stacks.

The Inverted Roll #

Structured Programming supports the law of the excluded middle. – Alan J. Perlis

The basic roll in Suldokar’s Wake is the inverted roll. You roll a d20 and hope for an outcome either above the difficulty number (DN) or within a “safe” span at the lower end of the die, which is determined by one of your stacks.

For example, say you’re searching in a library for a book and it’s a standard roll with a DN of 15 and your Archive is 5. You roll a d20 and you get a regular success if you roll within your stack (1-5), a special success if you roll above the DN (16+) and you fail if you roll in between (6-15). A result of 13 is a fumble and a 20 is a critical. If the DN is 12 or lower you can’t fumble. If the DN is 20 or more you cannot get a critical (but the Apt might be able to get one anyway).

Conclusion #

As you might be able to see from this brief introduction, Suldokar’s Wake is doing its own thing. In this post I introduced some of the terminology used in SW and described part of what makes a character. In the next post, I’ll cover the rest of the character details.

You can find part 2 of this series here.

  1. what is widely known as advantage/disadvantage was first introduced in Whitehack as “double positive” and “double negative” rolls, years before D&D included it in its rules for the 5th edition, so this is not borrowing from 5th edition, it’s the other way around. ↩︎