Thursday, 11 October 2018

Insect - a System Shock 2 hack of Knave

Preview of the possible cover

I will keep it simple: I love Knave, it's a simple and elegant system, quick to play and easy to master, with a very cool classless concept: you are your equipment.
This concept is actually not new in videogames (I'm not sure about tabletop rpgs though), therefore I decided to try my own hand in a hack inspired by one of the best "old school" games out there: System Shock 2.

SS2 (from now on) is a horror science-fiction First Person Shooter where you are a cybernetically enhanced soldier with the mission to navigate a huge megadungeon starship facing mutated crew, cyborgs and robots in order to destroy The Many, a alien hive mind which is controlling the place.
If all of this is not cool enough, SS2 has also some RPG features, like abilities, skills, magic psionic powers and cybernetic implants. And all of this fits well in Knave.


Citadel Station, System Shock 3 conept art

An adaptation

"How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?"

Insect will not be a faithful adaptation of the videogame. It will be neither as deep nor as complex as SS2 is, and it's fine like this. I want this game to have more or less the same complexity as Knave, and therefore a lot of simplifications will be made, but I also want Insect to convey as much as I can the same experience as the videogame with the rules I'm using.
It will be difficult, it will be not completely successful, but it will be fun and I hope you will enjoy the final result.


Shodan by JimHatama
Shodan by JimHatama

Why the name?

"Welcome to my world, insect."

The main antagonist of the System Shock series is SHODAN, an incredibly powerful and intelligent AI with a god-complex. She sees herself as divinity, and everyone else is, of course, below her. Insects, nothing more.
And "insect" you are called very often by SHODAN in both games.

So, as in Knave you are a knave, in Insect you are an "insect".


System Shock: Hiding in the Shadowsby Jason Burhans

What will be Insect about

"The Many has grown to a massive size. It has wrapped itself around these two ships, preventing their separation."

In Insect you are a cybernetically enhanced individual who will face horrors and perils in claustrophobic spaceships, labyrinthine space stations and hazardous planets.
The cosmos is inhabited by nightmares, be these natural or artificial, man-made or coming from the depths of space.

You may be part of a crew of a battered spaceship trying to keep flying, exploring derelicts and seemingly abandoned bases trying to savage supplies and spare parts.
You may be a mercenary, hired by companies who want to save what they can from a space station controlled by a murderous AI --or destroy compromising data.
You may be one the few survivors of an infection that mutated the rest of the crew of the space freighter you were working on into terrible monstrosities.

But in the end, you are just an insect in front of the grandiosity of the universe. And what lurks in the darkness.


The UNN Von Braun really is a megadungeon

Starmap of the project

"I re-examine my priorities, and draw new conclusions."

These are the things I will tweak and do (and some that I'd like to do) in order to adapt Knave to System Shock 2. They are presented in no particular order.

  • Abilities: renamed to reflect those in SS2, some changes in their uses
  • Armor and weapons: most of them will be ranged and with a sci-fi feel
  • Equipment: specialized and mundane items from the far future
  • Implants: cybernetic and psionic implants that will give bonuses and powers
  • Psionic powers: the magic of the future
  • Upgrades as advancement: no experience points will be used, upgrades (=levels) will be bought with currency and installed
  • Random traits: these are mostly ok as they are in Knave, maybe I will add some touches
  • Random missions and locales: tables to generate missions, hooks and places
  • Horrors of the cosmos and the cyberspace: monstrosities both natural and artificial to throw at our sweating insects
  • Introductory adventure: to give the feel of the game
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess: this project was actually born as a conversion for LotFP, and I will continue it after I'll finish with Insect and it will be more complex and detailed
A Cyborg Midwife, the creepiest enemy of SS2
"Little Ones need lots of meat to grow big and strong"


  1. I'm way into this. I like the first game better, but the second is also a masterpiece.I'm curious about how you'll make the survival horror aspect transition to more than one player.

    1. If you take the adventures and modules of LotFP they already are kinda survival horror games.
      In fact, that's why I started the project using LotFP. I switched to Knave only after reading it.

      I think it all depends on the adventures, the dangers, the atmosphere, the isolation.
      Also, things like low ammo and high equipment cost can greatly help.
      If any item you use and any bullet you spend must count, the anxiety can rise.