Liminal Void Quickstart and Scenario Teardown, Part 1: Background, Quickstart rules

Liminal Void Quickstart and Scenario Teardown, Part 1: Background, Quickstart rules

January 1, 2023
TTRPG, ttrpg design, liminal void, total//effect
Map of CI Central Processing Station 1 (CICP-1)
Map of CI Central Processing Station 1 (CICP-1)

I'm in a posting mood because I'm putting off finishing writing a press release/kit so I figured I'd ruminate a little bit about how I put the Liminal Void Quickstart rules and scenario, Escape from CICP-1, together. Mild spoilers for the scenario under the fold if you care about that sort of thing, but most of the big scenario stuff is going to be in a follow-up post, but also it's just long and this seems polite.

History of the first few Liminal Void things/Background

I initially slapped together the "first draft" of this ruleset and scenario as a last-second thing when a critical mass of people in my weekly game dipped because I saw a chance to playtest an extremely early version of Liminal Void. (Extremely early because I basically just made pregen sheets for 6 Professions - Loader, Pilot, Technician, Engineer, Security, Foreman - and a few weapons and armor and went from there, as well as a quick map of a station with some ideas I could improvise with and a general idea of the scenario (raiders entering + reactor meltdown).

An older map of the station.

That map was intended to be top-down as far as gravity, office building-style, because I was less concerned with harder sci-fi and more concerned with tapping something out - instead of a shuttle, the central pillar was an elevator, and instead of rings, they were just floors. In the one-shot I ran, I also used clocks instead of Threats, because I hadn't really written that section of the SRD yet or internalized how I could really use that.

Reading the first few expanse books on vacation got me thinking about ways I could revise this, and as such I went to the ring/hangar construction concept - and the rest is history.

The Quickstart rules: Level 0, professions, tools, weapons, and outfits

I'll touch upon a few bits of what I put together and my intent. I'm not gonna copy all of it or touch on everything, just read the thing if you want to see all the numbers or whatever. It's free.

Level 0

First off, the idea of Level 0. Obviously this is not something I came up with: it's common in OSR/D&D-adjacent contexts (off the top of my head, DCC and Shadow of the Demon Lord use it). This is both a distinctive thing for Liminal Void in Total//Effect though (levels 1 through 9 are always there, 0 and 10 are the big ones) and a great starting point for people who want a self-contained taste of the system without the more complicated things (ship maintenance, economy shit). In those, a lot of the time it's an excuse to kill off a bunch of characters. (And that mode does exist here too! Funnels are conceptually interesting and I like them.) But even if you're not doing that kind of thing, I have a few goals for Level 0 in Liminal Void:

  • Establish some "starting points" for characters, and give some playstyle options.
  • Figure out, through play, what kind of people your characters were and are. (The Background mechanic is the obvious version of this, but even more subtle decisions inform a character.)
  • Make sure the party is a persona non grata in some way.
  • Get the party a spaceship. That's a major part of the game going forward.


So to start, characters are basically only a Profession. Aside from combat recover/reload/recharge die tweaks, a skillset they can use for roll bonuses, and one passive trait (which matters inside and out of combat), these are basically just bundles of equipment. There's no character "creation" as such. This is both practical (it makes it easy to grab another from the stack in funnel play) and thematic - at the start of the session, you're just a regular person working a space job, you blend in perfectly. At the end of it, you've been through at least one traumatic experience, you've probably revealed some part of your past that people didn't really know about before, you've had to make (or go along with, more on that later) some interesting choices, and you have control of a ship. (Level 1 assumes you have a Background, so if you gain that in play, you're basically just getting an advance on that.)

These professions are:

  1. Laborer, which is the "bruiser" of the group, basically someone solely tasked with manual labor. Its trait is that it's got more Health/Endurance and can punch people better with the default Struggle combat action. It starts with Safety Gear (more Endurance) and a futuristic version of a construction exoskeleton that lets them grab things well and take big dumb flying leaps at things.
  2. Driller, another somewhat "bruiser"-y one...well, you can guess what it does. Its trait is that it gets better results when it rolls well on physical things (which also includes that Struggle combat action). It starts with High Impact Gear (more Endurance, resists Kinetic which is essentially melee, less equipment slots) and an Excavation Drill which lets them drill through things or put up a debris shield to protect people.
  3. Pilot, which is a pilot (but also a navigator/drone pilot/equipment operator, which gives its skillset a little more to work with). Its trait is that it gives Advantage when doing things at long range. It starts with a Pilot's Suit (which has a small air supply and Invulnerability to Hazard, making them the default for things involving taking a trip outside) and a Drone Kit, which allows some low-Harm ranged area attacks and a wingman routine to protect others.
  4. Technician, which is basically the person sent to fix things on the station. Its trait is that it can move after completing a task, because they're so overworked, and gain bonuses vs. things that would benefit from them being able to quickly move away, drop to the ground, etc. It starts with Coveralls (extra equipment slots) and a Supercharger, which is conceptually basically a voltmeter combined with one of those "jump start your car" battery kits: it can shock people or charge up an Energy weapon.
  5. Engineer, which is someone a little more on the "systems administration" side of things than Technician. Its trait is that it ignores penalties from Escalation, making it the go-to profession for doing more measured things when shit is going very bad. It starts with Coveralls as well and an Analytics Helmet, basically an AR display that lets them target enemies better or highlight them so allies can anticipate their attacks.
  6. Foreman, which is basically the "face" if they show up. Its trait is that it can assist allies with anything involving coordination or timing (which includes attacks, but also just a lot of things in general). It starts with Safety Gear and a Comms Array, roughly a portable loudspeaker which lets them be very loud to attract attention and bark orders at allies.

As mentioned, my first set of Professions was Loader, Pilot, Technician, Engineer, Security, Foreman. These went through a handful of changes:

  • Loader changed to Laborer. (Made it more generic.)
  • Security became Driller. (Security was a weird fit, being the only one with an actual weapon instead of a tool - and having a mall cop in the group made for a different vibe, and not in the good way.)
  • Technician changed from Pulse Driver to Supercharger. (Pulse Driver was "I couldn't think of a good thing so here's basically a sci-fi wrench with some gravity stuff". I ended up reusing the concept for the Excavation Drill but reversing the 1-Charge and 3-Charges effects.)
  • Engineer changed from Supercharger to Analytics Helmet. (Supercharger always made more sense as a technician thing, Engineer is the analyst: so they gain something that lets them be a little more supportive rather than up in the mix.)
  • Messed around with starting equipment. It used to be a lot more generous as to how many Stims, Batteries, or Clips you started with.

Tools and Weapons

As noted above, there are six tools included in this quickstart, one for each Profession. Tools vs. Weapons is one of those things I shifted around with in my head a lot. In the end, I differentiated them in several ways:

  • Tools are usually more on the supportive side, weapons are more Harming or do good Harm at longer ranges, because that matters a great deal in tactics games. As many people have noted in many games, Harm is the best status effect, and this is no exception: in combat, a weapon is just better to have if your goal is to kill something with it. (Tools are fine at this in some cases, like the Excavation Drill, but the ones that do one-shot Harm are typically Melee range only.) don't gain the out of combat uses of a tool, unless it's the kind of out of combat problem that can be shot to pieces. So if you're taking a weapon instead of a tool, you're making a choice!
  • Tools use Charges, Weapons use Ammo. This is a similar choice: stock up on Clips (which restore Ammo) or Batteries (which restore Charges) or both (which means you have less ability to stock the other kind of thing).

For tools, those were relatively easy because they came with Professions. For weapons, I split these into two categories: 3 are used by security forces, 3 by others.

  • Security weapons are mostly designed to put down riots more so than take out intruders. They have a Peacekeeper (an energy-based crowd suppression tool), a PDW (a short-range compact weapon designed for anti-group fire), and a Smoker (smoke grenade launcher that can also launch aerosolized stimulants).
  • Other weapons are more generalized, used for self-defense in boarding actions and in general (most of these are gained by fighting the intruders). Those are the Laser Pistol (which is more defensive in this configuration, meant for shooting quickly then ducking into cover), the Shotgun (it's a shotgun), and the Rail Rifle (which is a sniper rifle).

I knew early on that I wanted everything to have a 1-Charge ability and a 3-Charge ability, which makes for 12 things. To decide what everything would do, I used the concept of roles, of which I defined 12! So to ensure there was a good variety, I made sure that within those 6 Tools, each one had one ability from one Role and one from another (Attacker vs Defender vs Support) and each sub-role was supported. I then did the same thing for Weapons. In a lot of cases Roles/Sub-roles overlapped, which is fine: it's not intended to be prescriptive, but more so an exercise to ensure that weapon abilities don't just turn into "shoot good" vs "shoot more good".

(Weapons, improvised or otherwise, that don't take charges/ammo exist, they just modify the Struggle action. This does mean that a Laborer or Driller with a big wrench or something can still absolutely clean up, because their traits stack with that. Low-tech weapons/tools do still take usually 2 slots, which could still be used for something more versatile, but it's sometimes a reasonable trade for reliability.)

The final piece of the puzzle is number of Charges/Ammo a tool/weapon can store. Typically I went for 6 for 2 Slots, 8 for 3 Slots, and 10 for 4 Slots as a baseline, and tweaked less broadly versatile things (including melee-only abilities) up and more versatile things (including high Harm at range) things down.


For each outfit, I weighed a few different properties as equal to each other, and as a starting point, balanced around each outfit gaining 2 of them (default is 6 equipment slots, which is basically one tool/weapon and 2-4 slots for incidentals):

  • +2 Endurance
  • +3 equipment slots
  • Resist X
  • Invulnerable to Hazard + 15 Threshold Air Supply
  • 15 Threshold Air Supply

Outfits are simultaneously less obvious and just as important as tools/weapons. This is for a few reasons:

  • By default, everyone has 6 Health and 4 Endurance. If you gain +2 Endurance from an outfit, that puts you at 6 Health and 6 Endurance: suddenly you can guarantee that you'll tank exactly one hit with no adverse consequences (because everything does Harm based on d6 values, so it's almost always going to be 1-6 Harm) and probably tank one extra Low Die Harm hit (because that's 2 Harm). Resist X does this too but better (stepping down Harm effectively reduces it by 1.5 in most cases, so it's like +2 Endurance multiple times, and unlike +Endurance Low Die Harm of 1 reduces to 0) but only for that particular Harm type (so you can take a few more hits from people with wrenches, for instance, but not bullets).
  • On the other hand, more equipment slots means you effectively gain way more in the way of in-combat and out-of-combat capability through bringing more equipment.
  • Hazard resistance/invulnerability and Air Supply makes it possible to do Space Stuff or handle certain kinds of hazards like fire, extreme cold, teargas, etc. which is its own kind of utility.

Tune in next time (at some point) for part 2 where I go elbow-deep on Escape from CICP-1!

(Read the original on cohost here!)