A system for playing science fantasy adventures in the future of old is the tag line for Hypertellurians. It is an RPG that conveys its sword and planet themes well through its use of flavourful character powers that, alongside the advancement system, encourage heroic play. However, the cohesion of the subsystems does not achieve a smooth-running engine for producing the types of stories it aims to help tell.
Hypertellurians provides a method for ‘quick and dirty’ character generation that involves selecting:
- An Archetype which is akin to a class and provides starting cosm powers that a player can call upon in the narrative like having acid blood or ignoring gravity to allow you to walk on walls.
- A concept which is a basis for a character from pop. culture and it provides ability scores, affinity, a drive and weakness, and equipment with suggested advances.
The second method has the player determine all of the features of the concept manually instead. It is a direct and easy procedure of which the only interesting aspect to me is the drive and weakness. These work well to facilitate the conversation between a player and a GM because both know what two primary factors affect decision-making for the character. In my opinion, this supports a better narrative generation by both parties, and it will likely support the GM in the creation of locations, artefacts, and other such objects that drive advancement through ‘Wonder’.
Hypertellurians does not allow characters to advance through combat encounters, instead it has characters advance by discovering awe inspiring places, creatures, and vistas. This generates Wonder which is a party resource that can be used to activate Wondrous powers which range from bonuses in combat to flashback type memories to provide narrative advantages in the present. The more Wonder spent, the more the characters advance at the end of the session which include things like increasing ability scores or gaining new cosm powers. I quite like this mechanic of ‘double-dipping’ on experience points as it works like massive carrot for the players to pursue those awe-inspiring things by allowing them to use these powers and advance their characters.
To support the GMs through this Hypertellurians provides an adventure seed table, a sample adventure, magic items, NPCs and monsters, magic spells, and weapons. I find that this helps to elicit the themes and tone of the game, however it is lacking in one key area: locations and vistas. You know, the majority of what generates advances for players. Given that the system has lethal combat and encourages players to avoid combat it seems like a missed opportunity to have a subsystem for combat instead of including random tables or more sample awe-inspiring things.
Hypertellurians operates on the standard D20+Ability Score Modifier >= Target Number to resolve actions. It is nothing ground-breaking just like the round-based combat subsystem that has players taking turns to either do two actions or one action dependent on when the player would like to go in the initiative order. The change to initiative here at least adds an interesting choice for players and the system also provides a ‘cleave damage’ mechanic so that any leftover damage carries over to the next closest enemy which I think adds to the themes of heroic characters wading their way through mooks. Furthermore, the system has armour and shields operate differently to each other and spells and equipment have an exhaustive tag system that describe how they are mechanically different in combat too.
The more I read Hypertellurians the more I thought that this would be a great system for a science fantasy adventure filled with combat encounters. It is a fast subsystem with lots of character customisation and opportunity for shenanigans. This is not at all what the system describes itself as which is “… a game about exploring the endless worlds of the Ultracosm”. This is where I believe Hypertellurians falls short. It encourages players to explore and discover awe-inspiring things by providing advancements and access to powers for the characters but instead of providing tools for the GM to create these things it focuses heavily on a combat subsystem whilst discouraging players for engaging in it.
Hypertellurians appears to be a functional OSR-adjacent system, however the focus on combat feels like a missed opportunity to instead include different subsystems or tables to further the self-proclaimed goal of science fantasy adventure.