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Geneforge as a Pen & Paper RPG?

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Hey all, I'm working on adapting Geneforge to tabletop for my friends and I. I'm surely not the only one around here who has taken on such a task, so I'm curious how others have gone about it, and how well it has worked for them. Are any other folks out there doing similar things with their gaming groups?


RIght now, I'm kludging through it with D&D 3.5 rules, and handling it as follows (behind a spoiler tag, because it's long):

  • All classes except clerics for players. The straight-up divine magic of clerics just doesn't seem to work as a player thing conceptually in a Geneforge setting, although it might work for NPCs. (Paladins are drawing their "divine" power from their zealotry about Shaper law.)
    • Player characters are not limited to playing Shapers (or Guardians or Agents)
    • Shaper, Agent, and Guardian roles will be in-character designations and independent of D&D class. (Deciding whether a wizard with Shaping feats is a Shaper or an Agent seemed pedantic. Yes, I know I could have just made some custom classes, but my custom classes rarely come out balanced, and also I like the idea of Shaping merely being a few Feats that a magic user of any flavor could theoretically pick up as long as they found the appropriate training.)

    [*]No Summon/Create/Animate spells without an appropriate Shaping feat. Basically, if it makes something that acts alive or independently, it's off limits without this.

    [*]New, Shaping-related Feats that use the character's experience points as their Essence (since Essence is in many ways their life force, and permanent spells in D&D almost always pull on XP anyway)

    • Shaper Healing: allows casters who would not otherwise have healing spells in their list to add the "cure wounds" series of spells from the cleric spell list as if they were clerics, but with an added cost in experience points per cast equal to 10 times spell level. (Cure Light Wounds is Cleric 1, so costs 10 XP per cast) Prereq: 1st level spells
    • Shaper Summoning: required for summon/create/animate spells at all, and also allows the caster to make a summon permanent by investing XP equal to the number of hit dice times 100 of the creature (so summoning a 1HD badger costs 100 XP to make permanent, a 4HD ape costs 400 XP). All summon/create/animate spells must be learned/taught; no freebies for leveling up in this case. Prereq: 1st level spells, and some kind of summoning spell or spell-like ability in class spell list or class abilities (paladin mounts can be summoned, and therefore satisfy this)
    • Shaper Tactics: character gains 10% more XP from any combats which involve Shaped, non-natural creatures. Prereq: Shaper Healing
    • Shaping Mutation: allows altering/adjustment of HD and attributes/feats/skills of summoned creatures, as allowed by DM. XP costs of modifications determined by DM. Prereq: Shaper Summoning
    • Shaping of Self: allows alteration/adjustment of attributes/feats/skills of the character themselves, as allowed by DM. XP costs of modifications determined by DM. Prereq: Shaping Mutation, Shaper Alchemy
    • Shaper Alchemy: allows creation of Shaped tools/weapons/armor; follows rules similar to Craft Magic Item/Weapon/Armor. Also required for breeding new batons/tools. Prereq: Caster level 3, other requirements determined by item

    [*]Shaping Skills: Fire Shaping (INT), Battle Shaping (INT), Magic Shaping (INT) which are mostly useful for reducing the base costs of making the related creations permanent. When the player chooses to invest the XP to make the creation permanent, they can roll the relevant skill for a 50% XP cost reduction against a DC 10+HD of the creature. These skills also get used like Spellcraft in identifying Shaped things or what an enemy Shaper might be summoning

    • Synergies:
    • 5 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana) gives +2 bonus on Magic Shaping checks
    • 5 ranks in Craft (Alchemy) gives +2 bonus on Fire Shaping checks
    • 5 ranks in Handle Animal gives +2 bonus on Battle Shaping checks
    • 5 ranks in any of these skills gives +2 bonus on Knowledge (Shaping) checks

    [*]Since I'm not actually interested in wading through every single D&D spell that might summon or create an animal/monster, classification of a summoned thing as a Fire, Battle, or Magic creation will be at DM discretion. (DM is also free to decide a given summon just doesn't fit the world, and that you need to try something else.)

    • Most natural animals and their dire, giant, and monstrous forms will be Battle creations
    • Most celestial/fiendish creatures and many undead will be Magic creations
    • Most elementals and elemental outsiders will end up modified to be appropriate to fire (or cold or something else that makes alchemical sense... thanks cryoa!) and become Fire creations
    • Most good/evil/chaos/law outsiders like demons, devils, angels, etc. just won't happen.

    [*]Players with a Shaped creation may, upon earning XP, divide it up between themselves and their creation(s) freely, although once committed, the XP stays where they put it. This means that they are free to level up their creations at their own expense, following monster level-up rules.

    [*]In certain conditions, like being in a well-stocked Shaping lab, near an essence pool, or having recently used canisters (naughty Shaper!), the XP cost of Shaper healing or summoning may be partly or completely negated.

    [*]Shaped creatures can be druid/ranger companions, wizard/sorcerer familiars, or paladin mounts, and the bonuses do stack with Shaper modifications and/or dedicated XP. Whether a given shaped creation is available as a companion/familiar/mount will be at DM discretion.



I could probably do it cleaner with something like GURPS, but I'm not sufficiently familiar with it to feel like I can DM well with it yet.


So far, my players haven't run into most of this yet, as they're still baby Shapers working on their thesis defense at a Shaper academy, but I'm trying to hammer out some details ahead of time.

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Ambitious, and kudos to you for recognizing that reinventing the wheel with new classes is a terrible rabbit hole to plunge down without a lot of forethought followed by a lot of work.


That said, while I am not a playtester, I foresee a few major problems. I'm going to start with a basic disagreement: I don't think essence is life force, at least not for those using it to shape. It's more like shapeable stuff, or capacity to shape and maintain stuff. It's a refillable resource, and shaping and killing or absorbing creations has no permanent cost.


1. Classically no one wants to play the cleric because of the heal-bot problem. Requiring a feat and spending XP to heal? Not going to be popular at all. Allow clerics as normal and just say they're the experts in healing craft.


2. Summoning has the same problem, especially since D&D summons are, especially early on, heavy on the cannon fodder and light on anything you'd keep around. You'd just be throwing away 100 XP on a badger. No one wants to do that, and no one's going to be unhappy as the under-leveled summoner. I think it might work better to allow those summoning with spells to use two slots instead of one and keep the summoned creature permanently, but those spell slots remain unusable as long as the summon is active. Like using essence. (Off the cuff, not playtested, might be broken, but at least palatable.)


3. Feats that mess with XP are probably a bad idea. Either they'll provide too much or they'll provide too little. They're a balance nightmare... and they're not fun. Feats should add fun to the game, and this is an entirely passive and extremely slow benefit. I think the idea with Shaper Tactics is to offset all that XP loss, but... no. And the Shaping skills are in the same boat.


4. Shaper Mutation is entirely vague and I'd be afraid to take it without rules. Self-shaping is the same, but again has a narrow margin between broken and useless.


5. Just rename the Craft <whatever> feats as Shape <whatever> and you're good.


I'd go with keeping it even simpler. Don't modify rules or make new feats. Keep everything as-is as much as possible. You need to do something about permanent summoning (and I suggested something above), but stick as close to base rules as possible.




From the thinking I've already put in, Arcana Unearthed/Evolved (not to be confuse with Unearthed Arcana) has always struck me as a better fit, mostly because of more flexible caster classes and different feats to inflect flavor. Permanent shaping isn't really a D&D forte, though, so it'll be some kind of stretch however you do it. And that's another set of rules you'd need to pay for and learn; probably not close enough to justify the costs.


—Alorael, who would go for pushing flavor more than careful adherence to the mechanics of Genforge. Just say anything not carefully shaped from an essence pool in a lab is unstable and won't last more than a short time, then leave such things to NPCs. It's not quite faithful to the Geneforge PCs, but you can keep the world working as expected and the D&D rules working too.

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  • 1 year later...

I'm building it in GURPS right now, actually, for a retelling of the first game. I've drawn up a bit of a primer on Geneforge lore for my greenhorns in the party so they can have just enough to function.

Here's a link. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SQEe1_qgL7lA2LhuVghXXmC4A1cHC8YOCH8W2W6Zc78/edit#

Any advice would be appreciated!

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