Cold & Dark - a WTF moment in their 'science'

I’m reading my way thru the Cold & Dark RPG (Modiphius/Wicked World Games). The setting is interesting, it has nice call outs to sources as diverse as Aliens and Firefly, and its horror vibe is more ‘achieve plot things and get PTSD’ than my usual experience of Cthulhu - i.e. fail to achieve anything of note and go unplayably mad.

However… the science.

It started out well. They stated that upfront and outright they were going for Style over Science. That’s fine by me. I’m a scientist by training, but I’m quite happy with games such as Maschine Zeit, which operate on movie logic, not on realistic astrophysics or engineering. After all, Maschine Zeit is a setting with ghosts and zombies in it!

But Cold & Dark has a chapter which is chock full of ‘science’ and engineering’ - for instance how ships’ reactors work. It is packed with details. And the details seem to have 2 things in common:

  1. They are scientific bollocks. Like the intense heat from a plasma cutter which is stated to never ignite anything, ever, because the heat has been separated from the combustion.
  2. The details seem to have no game function whatsoever.

I don’t get this. I can see the logic of having a scientific explanation for your tech. I can see the logic of having minimalist techno-bollocks instead of real science ; for example, saying “The engines run off dilithium crystals - they are rare and expensive and need re-tuned once a month or the engines will stall”.

I don’t get having a whole page of nitty gritty details about how dilithium crystals behave when you mine them this way or that way, when you process them slowly this way or quickly that way, and so on. For instance, artificial gravity involves “a silvery cube with sides that measure 11.26 cm”. Am I as GM supposed to memorise all this stuff? Is whoever is playing an engineer supposed to memorise it all? (There are pages and pages of it). Seriously, most of it could have been reduced to a series of bullet points of this sort:

  • Reactor type X has a radioactive, poisonous gas as a byproduct. The reactor will never explode, but if it is damaged in ship to ship combat, that gas will leak everywhere.
  • Reactor type Y has no radioactive or poisonous byproduct. However it will blow up spectacularly if hit in ship to ship combat.

Any thoughts as to why all this stuff is there?


Well, speaking as the author of Meltdown & Fallout… I’d just like to point out that the vast majority of that book is about real reactors, with only short sections on fusion and antimatter, and a slightly longer one on reactors in space. Because that’s what made sense; it can be researched.

(Some day I am going to write something with a hole 1.926643 centimetres across, but that’s because it’s an obscure reference.)

I like having stuff that PCs can get to grips with, but I agree that this may be a bit excessive. Players who want to come up with engineery stuff don’t need this much to work with.

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It could be source material for technobabble. Having a source of “facts” in the game that can be quoted as “explanations” for why last week’s plot-solving trick can’t be used this week could be valuable for people running this kind of game,

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