Engine Heart: The Post-Human RPG
Back in 2010 an RPG came out on 1d4chan that was very different. I did not learn about this until 2013 when its creator, Viral, was running a kickstarter to get print editions made so different stores around the world could sell it. However even with the printed materials up for sale the PDF versions, as with the 2010 edition, was and still is free to distribute, except now it is explicitly under a creative commons license.
Why make this page? Viral's site was down for a time and I wanted a backup site. After all it's already an obscure game, so why not try keeping it from going completely under? Plus it's free, can't beat the price of free. That and while the 1d4chan site was around, it didn't have the kickstarter minimods or the stand alone character sheet. This is me fixing that oversite.
Why so sparce? Well it's a case of 'I don't want to mess things up by making it too complicated since I don't know much HTML and mos of that is from 1996', plus Viral's own site was pretty sparse too. So why not, right? Plus I honestly don't see a lot of traffic here and really it's mostly reposting stuff I already had on my blog. Designer I am not, and I was focused more on 'can people actually read this text' more than 'is it fancy' since I still have traumatic memories of surfing the original geocities and getting blinded by all the crap that made everything just impossible to read.
What is Engine Heart?
Who here has seen Walll-E? You know that loveable trash compactor that fell in love with a bot with an overpowered plasma cannon? Basically That. Could be the world is a little less degraded. Could be a little more. For those of us nerds out there that like our games of pretend to include stats and rules and structure so everything is in theory fair ever wanted to play in that post-human world as all the little helper bots, AI, animals, and such left behind? Thanks to Viral Games you can! Could be there's a cave of humans in your setting that's never realized it's safe to reclaim the world. Could be cryo-tubes full of people that either never got thawed... or broke. Basically the limits are 'what happens after we're gone and the things we've left behind are still moving?'
On the one hand it's quirky so 'niche'. On the other you can easily point to WALL*E and go 'look, that's roughly the kind of world we're going for as a 'default' setting. It's different enough a concept to be noteworthy and you don't take yourself so seriously that it's getting in the way of fun. However i could see this setting adapted to other robot-centric things (like Megaman.) Could have a simi-religion based around he 'creators' (humanity.) Could have all sorts of things that the 1d4 page actually goes into as campaign ideas. Or you could adapt something else for robotic needs.
The Core Rules
Keep in mind this is not intended to be a very combat heavy game. You aren't playing warbots (for the most part anyway.) Lots of details like upgrading or what to roll in novel/new situations are left up to the Programmer (GM.) This can be good and bad; Good because this is more about exploring and experiencing new situations as a now sort of-sentient squeegee bot riding on a subway maintenance bot accompanying a robotic detective rather than war machines duking it out in the wastelands of post-human Earth. It can also be Bad if your group prefers concrete rules to prevent someone from managing to game things for just turnng one little thing into a huge snowball that takes over everything in game.
Really it all comes down to play-styles and how your group works.
Downloads and Links
Google Drive Mirror of the 2010 Core PDF
Google Drive Mirror of the 2013 PDF
Note: Also Contains all the material from Lights and Power.
Form Fillable PDF Character Sheet
Power and Lights
While originally a separate book, Lights and Power ended up being bundled with the core rules with the Kickstarter redesign.
It doesn't give you a real starting point such as 'you are a robot from x or y place.' Instead it gives you several potential starting places each with their own set of problems and sort of leads you along a road going from country to city... where the City itself could be home to any number of threats listed in other Minimods in addition to the AI vs AI 'war' going on.
'The Farm' Takes you to a small farm that, in spite of the lack of humans, is still busy getting ready for planting season, or harvest or maintaining it's equipment in spite of any need for it's corn having long gone away. If you come here, probably to use their power dock, you'd better work and if you're there not helping the harvest the locals are liable to see you as a threat to it.
Let's say you manage to get away from this farm and move on. You'll soon find an 'Enclave' of three bots somehow managing to eek out an existence of sorts in spite of the apparent lack of a power grid to draw power from and dust storms that tend to make solar panels useless. They aren't exactly hostile, but not forthcoming about the hows of their day to day. There's secrets they don't want uncovered.
Unfortunately this trio isn't even the biggest problem in the area. 'the Factory' is. An AI controlled factory that's long ago forgotten what it's supposed to build or why and only knows it must gather materials and build. Yet the only thing it builds are scavengers that gather more materials and new parts to keep itself in working order. It cannot be reasoned with or bargained only avoided or destroyed, and even a child is a dangerous thing when it has an army at it's command.
Let's say you get out of there. Great you're alive... but stuck in the metaphorical middle of nowhere. You're low on Power and possibly in need of repairs and maintenance work. Just when it seems you're winding down to become just another husk on the side of the road you catch sight of an 'Oasis' One staffed by robots promising repairs, fresh fluids, and Power. Never-mind how unsettling they might seem that's just the lack of juice to your CPU doing the thinking. C'mon in.
Business done there you're bound to meet all sorts of oddballs along the 'Road'... Never-mind this isn't a location so much as just random things you might see between Here and The City... though why you'd wanna go There is beyond me. It's got two AI's warring for control. Green being civil services and Red being Military and Defense. Personally out of the two I would prefer Green if I had to choose but I'd much rather find a nice quiet little community to eek out an existence and try building a little something for myself away from it all.
You want to stay and see what you can see? Maybe catch a show at 'Luck E Dog's'? Alright but the majordomo isn't going to like it if you try getting the performers to leave. Not into showbiz You say? Want to stop by the 'Menagerie' instead to see real and synthetic animals? Sure the place has seen better days, and management's a bit off it's meds thanks to not having any customers but it's nice enough I suppose if you're into that sort of thing.
Your travels might take you to the 'Border' of Red controlled territory. You have to step lightly else you'll be caught and reprogrammed, but there's a black market open for business and talk of a UFO that got shot down not too long ago. Think your CPU can handle all the excitement?
It's all very well written and it's easy to tie each little section into others weaving a larger interconnected story. Maybe the roamer from the enclave occasionally visits the farm, or your group found one of the little swarm/catcher bots while escaping the harvester of doom then had to run for all you could from the Factory after breaking free only to find the oasis of cannibals There's even hints left open to use or not that the human race can be revived and there's a trio of mega machines that are tasked with guarding copies of a gene bank that the menagerie AI would dearly love to get it's logic probes into because it wants the rarest of species; Humans.
You can even weave in features from the other minimods into this ongoing story, or break each element down and use bits and pieces in your own thing. The best part about this book is it doesn't force you to go A to B to C to whatever. It isn't 'on rails' so much as 'on a slightly easier to roll along section of ground.' I like the approach since it gives lots of freedom, and that is only allowed because the writing's good enough to hold up to being teased apart from a carefully packaged and managed collection and still have lots of fascinating.
It does what it's supposed to do by giving you a toolkit to work with and possibly follow along on if you want more than just a vague 'oh-kay here's what'd be awesome.' Combine this with Engine Heart's wal-mart knockoff mini-introduction as a potential launchpad and you've got a campaign setting that goes from 'just woke up' to 'repopulating the world with humanity. along with lots of slapstick nonsensical fun or heart wrenching bleakness between.
Downloads and Links
Google Drive Mirror of the 2010 Lights and Power PDF
Google Drive Mirror of the 2013 PDF
Note: Also Contains all the material from the Core Rules.
The Kickstarter Materials
All of this? Goodies that were milestone rewards for going above and beyond the minimum goal for the Engine Heart kickstarter. They are each separate PDFs and each, while not giving comprehensive 'who, what, why, etc' seems to fit well with the Power and Lights PDF's approach of giving player groups the general bones of a location and who they might find, but leave the details up to you from there on out. The PDF's in general are very minimalistic. Not a lot of fancy tables other than the occasional charsheet. All the text is fully selectable and while each is very small, only twenty or so pages at most, each covers enough ground to give imaginative Programmers (GMs) plenty to work with, especially if they try interconnecting several, or mix and matching elements.
While I haven't personally gotten to sit down and play it I've gone over the details, compared with other systems I know (D20 based and Shadowrun mostly) with refrencing it took me ten minutes to come up with three different characters (coming up with the right backgrounds and tweaking took longer, but that's because I'd gone in cold and started page flipping before locking down what I wanted.) There's the ability to minmax of course. Twinks are going to always be there, but every flaw has real consequences and none of them are real minor 'oh that'll never come up.' Likewise every perk is useful (some more than others, but still.)
The fact it's a bunch of PDF's instead of a gigantic 'holy crap this thing's got SO MANY PAGES haaaaaaalp!' is actually a bonus here. Instead of having to hunt and hope you can go straight to the one you want and away you go. Doing chargen? Boom. Core rules. Trying to figure out what the factory has? Lights and Power. Space oriented? Worlds above.
Industry Standard: Picture if you will a City with no suburbs. No 'infill' between it and the next town over. Just flat expanses of road, wilderness, and then suddenly a wall of skyscrapers ending either in huge machines building ever higher, machines tearing them down for raw materials, or jagged points where neglect and time have taken there toll on the ever-changing skyline.
The Buildings here are empty shells with never a thought for Power, or Doors or even places to stand at some points. After all the Big Builders only care about building the shells, not what goes in them. Nobody ever told them to stop building either so that is what they do day in and out. Yet even in a city of empty shells there are bots that eek out a living. Businesses that move at the drop of a hat, bookies that play the odds on when the construction crews will come through next. Just watch out and make sure you don't get embedded in the latest round of building!
In Transit: Special thanks to Robert Taylor, creator of the Rivets microgame for the use of the 'Locust' design. Even when humanity is gone there's still the problem of what happens when their war machines never quite got the memo about the war being over. The central setpiece is a small town about to be descended on by two small armies of 'locusts'. Autonomous war-machines that will strip a given area bare of resources to build more of themselves. There are only their Masters and Enemies. The Masters are long gone but that does not matter. There will always be Enemies.
Oh and where most player and non-player bots are capped at 100 points. These things are built using 150 points. This is going to be fun.
The good news is you, the player group, won't have to fight (or hide) alone. There's other robots in town that can be convinced to help. You've got a gas jockey that runs an autowash that 'washes' it's clients in high pressure sand while it locks them inside, a butler that is standoffish and rude but will fight to the bitter end to protect his master's home, a robot commune in the town's car dealership, and a bot that's survived in the apartment complexes by hiding in with the broken and deactivated waiting to pounce and drain away the life electricity of the unwary.
The World Above: Years ago, when is unimportant, a group of forty little bots were prepped to launch into space. One of these was injured in the pre-flight sequence and was grounded so the others could launch on time. Since then it's had to endure being in an environment it was never built for and the facility it was housed in being destroyed by a hurricane.
Another rocket exists, has been located, and this wayward little bot will not leave it. It's dream. It's Directive is to fly, join the Lunar Platform it's siblings have been building ever larger in hopes of attracting human habitation.
This minimod doesn't go into great detail of what is out there, as that is dependent on what the programmer's wanted for the universe (I'm working on a Mars setting for example.) What's Important is this helps fill the gaps on what sort of things might be needed/useful for bots that aren't designed for this world.
“In Space no-one can hear you beep.”
Consumer Grade: Written by Kalad “CaesarSalad” Hovatter; this little adventure focuses on a mall in Anywhere USA (or Europe or Wherever) that's trying to get by After People. The Food Court's Smashed, The tram is almost suicidally depressed because the rails are broken, the maintenance system is down, and the Security System is plotting to kill everyone.
But Everything Must Go! Never-mind the fact the parking garage is about to cave in on itself because the automated meter maids have towed everything in a five mile radius and piled them high they will cheerfully service any vehicle you've ridden in on just to alleviate the boredom. You will be greeted by a frostee machine that'll explain the rules of trade, possibly direct you inside, all in the hope you can help him get a few ingredients he needs to start making sno cones again.
Inside it's a free for all. Sure People have been long gone, but that doesn't mean Trade doesn't happen. Leave your money at the door they don't take that here, except when they do because it's made of useful metal. It's a free-for-all barter town here and if the store you're at doesn't have what you want they know where to get it even if that means beating up the bot next door and taking his things. Never-mind the fact the mall's atomic generator hasn't been serviced in awhile and might go critical at any time or that security might finally snap and start reprogramming you to try bringing everything back in line with what it thinks things should be like. We have the Deal of a Lifetime waiting for YOU!
This Booklet also has, in addition to the usual Features/Defects, a random location generator. Not only does it cover locations but also robot density and how the locals behave be it a small group of individuals hat go about ignoring each other, a commune that works for shared survival, a whole horde of bots establishing a pecking order based on who can browbeat and bully who, or even a city trying to rebuild itself. Very handy for the Programmer that wants locations between the set pieces you've got or if you need details but need an extra nudge.
Reboot, Recharge, Recycle: This one is more intended as a quick 'first adventure' that could basically be played quickly in store if need be as a bit of a demo for the setting. Contains a few features, flaws, and the rules of chargen So this is much like the quick rules for Shadowrun, D&D, Pathfinder, and all the others. Mostly exists so stores that had physical copies of the core materials could print and hand out to the curious that were unsure. Included here for completeness sake.
Downloads and Links
Reboot Recharge Recycle
Around the Net
As obscure as Engine Heart itself may be, it still has a presence on the net, and even was featured in a podcast series. Worth checking out.
1d4chan's Engine Heart Page
The Drunk and Ugly Podcasts
Mars Needs Sprockets
I very losely used the setting to write a novel that comes in several formats, so hopefully you will find something that suits your device and wants.
The time of the humans has passed.
All that you were built for is no more.
But you and your kind endure.
Some robots continue with their routines,
improvising as best as they can.
Others have found new directives.