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Aberrant: Nexus Developer Interview


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Aberrant: Nexus

>What was your inspiration, no pun intended, for Aberrant: Nexus?

The seed that germinated into this fanbook was planted way back in my early teens. I'd managed to find a somewhat ragged copy of Epic Illustrated in a used bookstore. I'd always read a lot of the Marvel comics, so I plunked down my $1.50 out of pure curiosity. Once I got a good look at John Byrne's "The Last Galactus Story" serial, I was hooked. Sadly, I'd have to wait to find out the rest of the story. Flash forward to 2001, when I found scans of the entire incomplete serial posted on the Internet. I'd already picked up & started playing both Trinity & Aberrant by then, so my imagination was sparked. A lot of the homebrew material that I've posted for Aberrant came from my old group's notes & papers.

Now skip ahead to the cancellation of all three of the Aeon Continuum gamelines. That started me on the path of producing fanbooks for Aberrant, as I felt a need to fill in the gaps that White Wolf decided against filling themselves. After helping to write Forceful Personalities, The New Flesh and A Breed Apart; all those influences combined into what would become Aberrant: Nexus.


>Aberrant: Nexus was in production for a long time.  How did it change from the original concept to the final product?

Well, I was writing most of this book all by myself in my limited spare time, so it wasn't going to be a rush job by any means. The concept started out as "the book of Aeon crossovers" and grew more or less organically from there. I had asked the posters at EON (now defunct) what they would've liked to have seen in an official version of Aberrant: Nexus, then repeated the question here at RPG Post. The feedback I received at both sites helped me decide what to put in the finished book. I briefly toyed with the idea of devoting a section to the First Aberrant War, but abandoned the notion when a couple of helpful folks - Dawn & Mr. Fox, IIRC - pointed out that such a huge topic warranted its own book. I also included a few minor topics (aside from the Doyen) in the Appendices that I'd been kicking around over the years and felt made nice optional material for Aberrant and the other two games.


>What value does Aberrant: Nexus have for players of Aberrant, Adventure! or Trinity?

It allows the horizons of their chronicles to be widened as their Storytellers see fit. Unless you're playing a strictly street-level chronicle - which is great if that's your cup of tea - a Storyteller will need to have something new and unexpected come out of left field to surprise her players. There comes a time when threats from Earth - or even known extrasolar space in the Noetic Era - cannot provide Storytellers with sufficient challenges to pit against their players. Aberrant: Nexus can help Storytellers keep such chronicles fresh and exciting for their players.


>Is Aberrant: Nexus geared more towards Storytellers or players?

I wanted a fairly even mix of such orientation, so most of the material is "dual-use" in that respect.


>What sort of things are in Aberrant: Nexus specifically for the Storytellers?

The history of the Aeon Society and the timeline in Chapter One are both useful for metaplot purposes. Chapter Two has details on using Max Mercer and Divis Mal in the chronicle along with material for time travel, crosstime travel and travel through extrasolar space. Material on aliens and the First Contact process is provided. Details on the Elder Inspired (and Elder novas in the Noetic Era) are set out. Guidelines for running high-powered Aberrant chronicles are also given. Chapter Three has the expected themes and conflicts plus crossover mechanics for Adventure! and Trinity, the latter of which answers a lot of thorny questions about novas in the Noetic Era. Chapter Four has plenty of new toys with which to equip Storyteller characters and to help simulate things such as celestial and transuniversal disasters. A new mechanic for determining a civilization's level of technological development is laid out. Appendix #1 has still more new stuff for Storyteller characters, while Appendices #2 & #3 gives the Storyteller novel options - odd events and encounters - to spice up their chronicles if desired. And of course, Appendix #4 has the dirt on the Doyen... There's also some errata for Aberrant: The New Flesh that's of use.


>What can the players get value from?

If they want to give their characters colorful roots in the history of Aeon and/or the timeline in general, Chapter One provides the necessary details. If they want their characters to engage in time or crosstime travel, guidelines for doing so are in Chapter Two. Guidelines for playing in high-powered Aberrant chronicles are also explained. The crossover mechanics in Chapter Three will let them play Aberrant characters in the Adventure! and Trinity settings without any problem. Chapter Four and Appendices #1, #2 & #3 have a new Mega-Attribute, new enhancements, new powers, new techniques, new Extras, new Merits & Flaws, a new aberration, new Backgrounds, new Adversarial Backgrounds and new Background Enhancements.


>Aberrant: Nexus extends beyond earth.  How far into space and time does the book travel?

In both cases, this depends on how much work a Storyteller is willing to do beforehand and what she's dreamed up for her players. It's a big universe out there, and the Milky Way and its associated dwarf galaxies are only a small bit of it. Likewise, there's all of the past and many potential futures to explore. The Storyteller will have to make a lot of the expansions to her Aberrant chronicle from whole cloth. Fortunately, Chapter Two gives guidelines for that sort of thing.


>What sort of content is there for time travel?

How about guidelines for changing the course of a timeline or preventing the same? How about ideas on time travel where changing history is not the goal?


>There is a section on the Doyen. How does the book expand what we know about this alien race?

Appendix #4 gives an expanded view into all aspects of the Doyen; their evolutionary origins, psychology, social structure, history, cultural values, technology, psionics - basically, the works. How their society functions, their form of government and their failings as a species are all revealed. Guidelines on how Storytellers can use the Doyen in each of the three Aeon Continuum settings are also laid out.


>Can you give us some examples of the new powers or enhancements in Aberrant: Nexus?

Here's a few:

Void Sense (Mega-Perception)
Baseline humans are a product of their environment - and one thing that nearly all of them require in order to function psychologically in a microgravity environment is a local vertical. Without something to orient themselves to, untrained baselines (and many novas) become hopelessly disoriented, nauseated and terrified before losing control of their body functions. For most, only astronautics training can alleviate this. Mega-Perceptive novas with this enhancement have no such troubles. Much like Adaptability lets a nova survive without air, food and water; this enhancement lets the nova adapt mentally to a truly three-dimensional environment without any applicable “up” or “down”. While novas don’t actually need this enhancement to operate in space - those with the Adaptability enhancement manage well enough - they’ll never do as well as a nova with Void Sense.

System: The nova gains + 3 automatic successes on any rolls involving space navigation or maneuvering in microgravity or other environments where there’s no real “up or down”. He also doesn’t suffer any penalties that result from not having a local vertical to orient himself with, and is wholly immune to vertigo.

This enhancement is always on and costs no quantum points to use.

Mental Prodigy: Xenology (Mega-Intelligence)
A nova with this enhancement is a genius when it comes to alien lifeforms - in some cases, the nova may actually relate better with alien sapients that he does with baseline humans! Aside from making the nova an excellent candidate for First Contact (and subsequent diplomatic relations), his genius also applies to every possible facet of alien life - xenobotany, xenoecology, xenozoology, xenosociology, you name it!

System: Whenever the nova is involved in situations or problems concerning extraterrestrial life forms, and/or nonhuman terrestrial sapients, the player may make an Intelligence roll. For each success achieved, he may roll an additional die when making Xenology and Xenorelations rolls and any other rolls related to those tasks. This enhancement costs 1 quantum point to activate; the effects and bonuses received last for a minimum of an hour, and possibly longer (at the Storyteller’s discretion).

Techgnosis (Mega-Wits)
For all their superhuman genius, many Mega-Intelligent scientists and engineers share a basic failing with their baseline counterparts. Simply put, they make incorrect - and often wildly over-optimistic - assumptions as to how human technology will progress. While their eventual failure is embarrassing for futurists when they are proved wrong, this can also lead to decades worth of wasted effort and resources. Novas with this enhancement are not burdened with that handicap; as they have an intuitive grasp of technology that lets them understand how to reverse engineer, mass produce and use wisely any device they encounter.

System: The nova never suffers any difficulty penalties for working with technologies from different Technology Ratings than her own. Provided that the nova has the correct basic Ability to use a device, she can figure out exactly how to use it as a free action. If she gets the chance to examine the device in a non-destructive manner, the nova can make an Intelligence roll to intuit how the device functions and whatever is needed to reproduce it. This enhancement works on both advanced mundane and Inspired technologies of any origin; be it human, transhuman or even alien. This enhancement costs 1 quantum point to use for a scene, although the understanding it grants is permanent for all practical purposes.

Crosstime Awareness
Level: 3
Quantum Minimum: 5
Dice Pool: Perception + Crosstime Awareness
Range: Special
Area: N/A
Duration: Concentration
Effect: Allows character to perceive alternate universes.
Multiple Actions: No

Description: “Look before you leap” has always been considered good advice, and is doubly so when faced with the prospect of traveling to an unknown alternate universe. This quantum power lets the nova peer through the barriers between his current universe and any alternate universes he wishes to examine. The nova can use both mundane and nova senses with this quantum power, especially the Locus enhancement. Typical uses include finding the home universes of other crosstime travelers, determining the threats posed by potentially hazardous universes and researching alternate histories. Note that attempting to peer through the barriers of universes with a different Static Cosm than the one that the nova currently resides in is much more difficult, requiring the nova to have a Quantum Trait of 8 and a Crosstime Awareness power rating of 6.

Using this power requires the nova’s player to roll Perception + Crosstime Awareness, with the degree of information received dependent on the number of successes gained.

Successes & Information Gained
1 - Very Basic. The nova receives the most minimal, “bare bones” information about the alternate universe in question, with everything else falling under the Storyteller’s jurisdiction.

3 - Basic. The nova gains a basic overview of the target universe, with all further details under the Storyteller’s jurisdiction.

5 - Moderately Detailed. The novas gets a useful accounting of all the information on the target universe that is pertinent to his desire for knowledge. For example, a character tracking a group of nova crosstime bandits back to their home universe would get a basic overview of that universe with a special focus on the bandits’ homeworld and social situation, especially as it applies to novas.

7 - Highly Detailed. The nova learns practically all the relevant information there is to know about the target universe. At the Storyteller’s discretion, an Intelligence roll must be made for the nova to keep from missing one or more important details.

Extras: Apparition (requires Telepathy ••+, the nova can create psychic illusions - typically of himself - in the minds of up to [Quantum + power rating] sapients within the target universe. Mental combat is impossible, but the nova can read and communicate with the sapients’ minds using the apparition as a conduit. Communication can be done “verbally” and/or through imparted visions.).


>How do you come up with the new powers and game mechanics?

Creating new powers was always a cinch for me. Many of my original ideas come from thinking about how the arms race of evolutionary development would take place in terms of nova capabilities - "measure and countermeasure", so to speak. If there was a new threat presented in the canon Aberrant books, it's only to be expected that novas would develop evolutionary responses in the form of new powers and/or Mega-Attribute enhancements to counter that threat. The natural world was also a big source of inspiration for new power/enhancement concepts. Then there's always the works of Charles Fort on the strange phenomena that he & his successors have recorded. That genre of human oddities is a literal gold mine of material for doing this kind of thing. A Body Modification from Aberrant: The New Flesh - Flammable Breath, to be exact - was inspired by the bizarre capability of an actual person whose tale I found in an old book of Forteana.

Aside from that approach, I've always consumed a lot of science fiction media in my life - books, movies, anime, comics, magazines and roleplaying games - to mine ideas from. In Aberrant: Nexus, the Astromanipulation quantum power came straight out of John Byrne's The Last Galactus Story from Marvel's Epic Illustrated magazine (sadly out of print for decades). Fans of Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars books from his Known Space series will recognize the Tau Discharge quantum power as being derived from the UN Space Forces' attack on the human colony world of Wunderland, which had been conquered & occupied by the Kzinti at the time. Those who read Eric Flint's Assiti Shards multi-series books will find one of the quantum power suite techniques very familiar to them. How about Adam Warren's excellent mini-series Iron Man: Hypervelocity? There's a Mega-Wits enhancement that was directly inspired (pun not intended) by it. The same goes for my earlier projects. The Incorporation quantum power (see Aberrant: The New Flesh) came from the classic anime Iria: Zeiram The Animation. Two of the Mega-Stamina enhancements, a Body Modification and the idea of "hatcher" breeder novas (see Aberrant: A Breed Apart) came straight from the awful Species science fiction/horror movie series.

That last example proves a point I'd like to expand a little on: worthwhile ideas can be found in both good and bad works of science fiction media. In the latter case it's just a matter of digging them out & removing the crap clinging to them. The salvage value is usually worth the pain of watching/reading bad sci-fi.

Now on the matter of game mechanics? Here's one of my actual secrets: I've never come up with much in the way of original game mechanics. In my earlier projects, I've either adapted old game mechanics from the canon Aberrant books or extrapolated "mirror image" versions of said game mechanics. Most of the new game mechanics in the earlier projects came from the minds of my colleagues at the time.


>Do you do any playtesting for the game mechanics?

Not nearly as much as I'd like to have had done this time, I'm afraid. Back in the day we did have some playtesters, but I was never directly involved. I was one of the guys at the drawing board, not one of those who dealt with the test drivers. Nowadays, Aberrant players and Storytellers tend to be a bit thin on the ground. When I'm developing a project practically by myself, as I had to for Aberrant: Nexus, I had no playtesters to rely on. Instead, I was forced to rely on two alternate sources of reference material. First, the established game mechanics from the canon Aberrant books. Second, the accumulated homebrew notes from the Aberrant chronicle I played in during the early-to-mid 2000s that I rescued from the dumpster after my gaming group dissolved. Working from those, I can get an idea of how a hypothetical new game mechanic would work out in actual play. Also, mistakes will always crop up, no matter how perfectionist one gets in trying to catch & correct them all. Hence errata pages.


>What other books are needed to get the most out of Aberrant: Nexus?

That's a tough question, as the answer really depends on the direction a Storyteller intends to take her Aberrant chronicle. Crossovers into the the Adventure! or Trinity settings will require the relevant core books, likely with several other Trinity books in the latter case. Even if the chronicle is just about travel in extrasolar space, many of the Trinity books will still be useful, especially the Trinity Players Guide. The rules for spacecraft and VARGs can easily be used for alien vessels and mecha.

>Do you have a process that you can share on how you develop and write these eBooks?

Ah yes, the fabled Secret Fanbook Production Process™, As Seen On TV... I hate to let the cat out of the bag, but that's pure bullshit AFA how I've been working on the Aberrant fanbooks.

What I & my fellow writers always did was to first decide on the general subject/focus of a book that hadn't already been covered - such as the Social and Physical Mega-Attributes or nova reproduction. Then we developed the new toys - enhancements, aberrations, quantum powers, Backgrounds & Background Enhancements, Merits & Flaws, etc. The rest of the fanbook always grew organically from there. We let what we deemed relevant & good grow. We also pruned that which was irrelevant. Aberrant: A Breed Apart actually originated as a subsection of Aberrant: The New Flesh that was pruned off & recast (transplanted?) as a standalone fanbook project.


>What was the most difficult section of Aberrant: Nexus to write?

As I was doing most of the writing myself - and in my limited spare time, mind you - this time around, it all took pretty long to hammer out. That said, thankfully I wasn't working under any sort of deadline, so I could always recheck what I'd written & fix any mistakes I'd made.

But which sections took the longest? It would have to be a four-way tie between Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Appendix #3 and Appendix #4. There was so much good material that needed to be hammered into shape, edited and spit-polished that I shudder to think about having to do so in a professional capacity.


>Who helped you write Aberrant: Nexus?

This time around all I had in the way of fellow project writers was Gabe "Jeremy Noctis" Meadow and Dawn "Dawn OOC" Prough. They both wrote the opening fiction "Samsara", and they did a first-rate job of it too! Mr. Meadow struck the right tone of desperation in the first part, while Ms. Prough provided a much-needed female POV and a level of emotional & psychological realism that as good as pure platinum AFA I'm concerned. Mr. Meadow also wrote parts of Chapter Two that I consider to be very good. The posters at RPG Post were a great help as well.

>During the development of the book you asked for some input on a few topics from RPG Post members.  How did that feedback help shape the book?

To be honest, I'd been asking for & thankfully receiving that feedback right from the beginning of the project. It helped make up for not being part of a group of writers on Aberrant: Nexus, so it was extremely important in just about every aspect of the book. So this fanbook can really be considered to be just as much the product of all that feedback as it is the product of my own efforts. There's a reason why the "Contributors" listing on the credits page is so long, you know.


>Do you have anything else you'll be working on in the Aberrant line in the future?

Despite some folks saying that Aberrant: Nexus is supposed to be a capstone for the Aeon Continuum gamelines, there's still room for some more fanbooks to be written provided that there's an audience for them. I've got one possible Aberrant project on my back burner that I'll be discussing later this month to see if there would be sufficient interest in it. But I'm more than a little exhausted after finishing Aberrant: Nexus, so I'll also be asking if there are any other good Aberrant writers who'd care to contribute their ideas to that project. There's a reason why most good fanbooks typically have more than one major writer: no single writer can cover all possible topics with equal skill.

As for other possibilities, we could really use an Aberrant book on the First Aberrant War. Getting the Trinity: Bright Continent project restarted & back in production would be very nice. A Trinity book on the nova & aberrant colony worlds and their ongoing conflict in the Noetic Era (using Aberrant: Nexus & the other Aberrant books for reference & game mechanics instead of Trinity's kludged rules for novas/aberrants) would make for exciting roleplaying AFAICT. An Adventure! Players Guide fanbook could be written, including explicit character generation rules for playing Enkidu-style sapient gorillas. The lack of such in the Adventure! core book was always a major pet peeve of mine.

I'll still contribute to projects I have an interest in, provided I'm familiar enough with a given game's mechanics, but I won't be doing any more one-writer projects from here on out. I'd like to see these hypothetical fanbooks written mostly by good writers with different viewpoints than my own. Call me an optimist.

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