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D&D Goes Sci-Fi with Hyperlanes

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Since making the transition to full-time writer, Ryan Chaddock shows no signs of slowing down. Already a prolific writer with a sizable selection of material for Cypher System-powered games Numenera and The Strange, Chaddock elevated his efforts when he launched his first Kickstarter for Swans of Black. More recently, creating content under the Scrivened LLC brand, Chaddock and colleagues enjoyed an incredibly successful Kickstarter for Hyperlanes, following up with Hellscapes.

Hyperlanes
Art from the Hyperlanes corebook.

In the video above, Nerdarchist Dave welcomed Chaddock to the live chat on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel. Fans of Chaddock’s work during the live chat were excited to hear more about Hyperlanes – tools for a cinematic sci-fi fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons experience. Better yet, many in the chat heard about Hyperlanes for the first time there and showed strong interest in the product.

Thankfully i was able to catch up with Chaddock myself while he travels at FTL speeds in the tabletop roleplaying game industry creating, designing and writing. Scrivened, a company he created with artist Avery Liell-Kok, is putting the finishing touches on some of the additional Hyperlanes material unlocked through Kickstarter achievements, plus working on Hellscapes. And looking forward, there’s already a new project on the horizon – but you’ll have to wait for an official announcement on just what it might be.

Chaddock
The Scrivened team (clockwise from top left): Avery Liell-Kok, artistic director; Ryan Chaddock, lead writer and developer; Katherine Gohring, layout artist; Joseph DeSimone, managing editor. [Art by Avery Liell-Kok]
For Chaddock, the opportunity to move forward from his old job in the grocery business to making a living as a full-time writer and game designer came about at after forming Scrivened with Liell-Kok. Before that, he’d done freelance writing for Geek & Sundry and created quite a few books under the Ryan Chaddock Games imprint. One of the most cost-intensive parts of publishing roleplaying game material is the art, which can chew through a budget. Partnering with Liell-Kok was instrumental in mitigating those costs, and played a significant part in Chaddock’s transition from what we at Nerdarchy like to call a Muggle job to his current situation as a full-time creator.

“To be honest, the big turning point was becoming friends with an illustrator, and the two of us forming a company together. Honestly, most of the expenses aside from paying yourself are either in the printing cost, or in the illustration. So working with an illustrator, we could lower that cost by having a higher potential payout. We live in the perfect time for this kind of venture. We’ve got Kickstarter, we’ve got DriveThruRPG, we’ve got all of the tools you need for home publishing. Basically all you need is good ideas and to know how to publish. Anyone can become a publishing company. It really comes down to learning the publishing skills. And so having an editor to really go over your stuff, doing playtest, having real illustration – all that stuff is part of it and that’s the real hurdle for the vast majority of people.” – Ryan Chaddock

Rather than rehash my conversation with Chaddock, which tread much of the same ground as his live chat appearance with Nerdarchist Dave, instead I’m going to focus on what I’m most excited about: Hyperlanes. In this and the upcoming Hellscapes, Chaddock puts a unique stamp on my favorite game – D&D. Before diving into what Hyperlanes brings to D&D, it’s important to address the question “why not play a different game?” In today’s RPG market there are countless options for science fiction genres, so why get D&D involved? Shouldn’t it stick to swords and sorcery?

For me, it’s always been a matter of familiarity. I like D&D and the framework of rules is woven into the fabric of my gamer self. There’s simpler games and more intuitive or easily-grasped rules systems…but they’re not D&D! Especially 5E, with it’s elegant design structure, D&D players can create any kind of story or homebrew content and retain the elements making it D&D (Armor Class, saving throws, ability scores from 3-18, etc.) But perhaps there’s more to it, as Chaddock explained to both Nerdarchist Dave and me – D&D is a playstyle all its own, more than a setting or genre.

“It runs just like D&D. Sometimes it takes people a minute to get that philosophy of Hyperlanes and Hellscapes. Our philosophy is ‘only put in what you need.’ This is just a toolbox – the rule system can be used for almost anything done in that style. D&D is a style of play – not just a rule system. There’s a reason we did space opera for [Hyperlanes] and post-apocalyptic for [Hellscapes]. It’s about combat. It’s about groups working together, teamwork, roles. Exploration, dungeon delving, treasure hunting. You have to find genres that really work with that.” – Ryan Chaddock

What Hyperlanes brings to D&D

Chapter 1: Cinematics of the Hyperlanes corebook illustrates Chaddock’s point about D&D as a playstyle. The four-page chapter is short and sweet, explaining rules conversion from D&D 5E (there’s very little, mostly terminology) and a bit about building a setting. Hyperlanes is designed to inject action-centric sci-fi elements into your game, using the D&D 5E engine. The toolbox analogy remains a great one, since gamers can pluck aspects from Hyperlanes to add to an existing D&D campaign or use the material wholecloth to construct and adventure in their own original settings or those inspired by their favorite sci-fi stories.

The rest of the book details everything a gamer needs to play, interspersed with narrative flavor stories sprinkled throughout.

Innovative species in Hyperlanes

This art from the Hyperlanes corebook is designer Ryan Chaddock’s favorite piece. [Art by Avery Liell-Kok]
To begin our look through Hyperlanes, Chapter 2: Species presents an incredibly innovative system for species creation. With no default setting included, it falls to players and Game Masters to create their own unique species to populate the galaxy. This is done by combining Cultures and Physiologies.

Like any great D&D material, there are random tables to roll on for determining culture and physiology. The tools in the Species section can easily be applied to a traditional D&D game too. Designing and creating customized options for the game world (or worlds!) can easily be combined with existing material from the Player’s Handbook or other sources to lend flavor to the elves, dwarves and other core player races, or to give a unique flair to civilizations in the setting.

Culture

A species’ culture represents the attitudes and traditions exemplified by the general populace. A culture determines the mental ability score bump for characters as well an languages. In addition, each culture has distinct attributes. Taken as a whole the culture provides a baseline roleplaying framework to help players more clearly define what characters from a particular civilization might be like.

Cultures range from aloof to ruthless, bureaucratic to warlike and more. There’s even a psychic culture granting telepathy.

The Hyperlanes corebook also suggests combining two cultures instead of a culture and physiology. Designing a species this way results in a much more mental-focused character. A setting populated mostly by humans, for example, becomes infinitely more distinct by giving each civilization their own combination of cultures. This idea can of course be applied to any species though. Perhaps elves in your setting are sly and manipulative, foregoing the standard Dexterity bonus and other racial benefits to instead gain Charisma bonuses and advantage on skill checks, a secret language and proficiency in Deception, Sleight of Hand or Stealth.

Physiology

As the name implies, physiology determines a species biological makeup. Options here are very diverse, from amphibian to reptilian, spiderlike arachnoids and even plantoid.

Bumps to physical ability scores come from a species physiology, along with age, size, speed and special biological traits. For example, an aquatic species gets advantage with flying vehicles due to the Pilot’s Mind trait, since they think in a more 3-dimensional way. A fungoid species is able to consume energy from recently killed living creatures through the Saprophyte trait. A huge variety of interesting traits emerge from physiology.

By letting players design their own species, Game Masters can share the worldbuilding experience by getting players to help create the setting. Populating an entire galaxy with unique planets, civilizations and species is about as daunting a GM task as they come. Giving players free reign to design their own species lets them add their own mark to the setting. Even on a smaller scale, in a more traditional D&D game without spaceships and interplanetary travel, a new unique species might inspire GMs to add interesting content to the setting. Or a player character could be a singular entity of their species, providing its own special storytelling opportunities.

Random traits

For extra flavor and variation, a table of optional random traits puts an added twist on an entire species or a single individual. Some innocuous, others useful and a few potentially flaws, these traits can again be used for Hyperlanes or any D&D game.

Combining culture, physiology and random traits leaves the door open for amazing possibilities in variety. For a couple of examples, here’s two species generating through random dice rolls. One is human, and the other nonhuman.

  • Human species
    • Sly
      • +1 Charisma
      • Common, species and one additional language of your choice
      • Secret species language
      • Proficient in choice of Deception, Sleight of Hand or Stealth
    • Warlike
      • +1 Charisma
      • Common and species language
      • Proficient in light and medium armor
      • Proficient in one weapon important to species, used in honor duels and carried on the battlefield
      • Proficient in Athletics or History
    • Skin turns colors when angry
  • Nonhuman species
    • Psychic
      • +2 Charisma, Intelligence or Wisdom (player choice)
      • Common and species language
      • Telepathy: two way communication with sentient living creatures within 60 feet
    • Gastropoid (humanoid snails)
      • +1 Strength
      • Age about same rate as humans (maturity around 16-18, lifespan around 100 years)
      • Cannot wear normal armor but natural AC 17, unaltered by Dexterity modifier
      • Breath underwater
      • Medium size
      • Bonus action lay a slime trail making difficult terrain for 1 round
      • Speed 25 feet
      • Advantage on all ability rolls related to sense of smell
    • Needs a breath mask when outside of home planet
D&D Hyperlanes
Art from the Hyperlanes corebook.

With a few dice rolls and less than five minutes we have two completely unique species. Perhaps our human’s home planet has been embroiled in a centuries-long cold war influencing all levels of society. Suspicion and subtrefuge are a way of life, often exploding into skirmishes or all-out battle as a matter of course. Keeping composure and guarding their emotions is key to survival since their skin can change color and betray thoughts and feelings.

For our gastropoid species, they might come from a mostly water planet where they developed telepathy to better communicate with each other underwater. On land, they’ve evolved to mitigate their slow speed by leaving slime trails to slow down predators. Adapted so keenly to their homeworld, they need special apparatus to survive outside their planet’s atmosphere.

Technological creatures

Art from the Hyperlanes corebook.

It’s not all gastropoids and galactic humans in Hyperlanes. A sci-fi game would not be complete without artificial life, and Hyperlanes has this covered too.

Androids, cyborgs and several varieties of robots are open to player choice, each with their own set of traits, skills and abilities.

As a big fan of robots and synthetic beings in sci-fi, these species options are some of my favorites – which is saying a lot since the Culture and Physiology system is incredibly innovative to begin with. Hyperlanes does make a note about stories involving technological beings overcoming innate programming and becoming more than a person-shaped tool, bringing to mind characters like EDI from Mass Effect or SCORPIO from Star Wars: The Old Republic. Roleplaying an inorganic character who may or may not come to learn and exhibit “human” qualities is especially interesting for me.

Example species

For Hyperlanes players or GMs who might not want to design their own species, the Species chapter wraps up with a selection of pregenerated species.

Beyond simply including bullet points of various combinations, each of the example species has a brief description to illustrate their appearance, homeworld and typical personality.

Up next

In the next installment of this Hyperlanes exploration, we’ll roll into the next part of the corebook. Chapter 3: Class presents tons of amazing options for characters. Built on the 5E engine, they are a terrific example of the simple elegance of the rules system.

Characters in Hyperlanes can choose from ambassador, genius, muscle, outlaw, pilot and soldier classes, each with their own archetypes.

UPDATE:

If you want to get a copy of Hyperlanes for yourself, head over to DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy. There is also an adventure available for Hyperlanes called The Celadon Caravan, for characters of 1st-5th level. As an extended introductory adventure, it showcases the gambit system, vehicle combat and more to help familiarize players with the cool new D&D 5E-fueled content.

Use the coupon code DTRPG-Nerdarchy to get 10 percent off any order $10 or more from the store (usable once per customer). [This coupon code is applicable to digital products only.]

In the meantime, have you played Hyperlanes yet? What unique species have you come up with? Also, think about the races and species in your D&D game – could this innovative species design system help define and add color to your campaign? Let me know in the comments below and, until we dive into Hyperlanes classes, stay nerdy!

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Content Director

Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.

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