Roadmap: S.E.A.C.A.T. & the Synthetic Dream Machine

A couple weeks ago, the 22nd day of the 2nd month of the 23rd year of the 21st century of our reckoning, I published a 32-page zine on my patreon, on the stratometaship.

Synthetic Dream Machine (SDM): Eternal Return Key.

By gods, but I bungled my pitch and roadmap delivery! Standing in for every one of several well-placed comments:

“I’m going to chime in here and request a post outlining the big picture at this point (promise to not hold you to it.) I just want to try to visualize all of the pieces and how they fit or don’t.”

Mea culpa, the fault is mine. I’d been in the “writing a roleplaying game” mines for 3 years: all of 2020 and 2021 and 2022. No wonder my brain is now in a fly-bit fuzz.

How to present it best? A map!

Fig. 1: WTFS Road Map

What’s Ready (2023.03)

  • Synthetic Dream Machine (SDM): Seacat Zr0 (Zr0) – a one-page distillation of the rules in UVG (2019), UVG 2E (2023), and BigCat (2022). Status: free, to be posted.
  • Synthetic Dream Machine (SDM): Eternal Return Key (ERK) – a 32-page illustrated elaboration of the rules in Zr0 and UVG 2E. It also sets up an alternate start for the UVG. The player(s) wake up as voidwalkers marooned in the vasty weird, far from home. Status: finishing the comics illustrating the zine (see below), the art-free version will be available free of charge.
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City 2E (UVG2E) – a 252-page hardcover reissue of the UVG with bigger art, fewer rules, more vehicles, more patrons, and more bestiary. Also coming: an even larger map and a sturdier ref screen. Status: in print, available for order soon.
Fig. 2: SDM: Eternal Return Key, Table of Contents.

What’s Coming Soon

  • SDM: Our Golden Age (OGA) – a character and setting-building series of 32-page zines for creating your own unique version of the Long Ago Rainbowlands. Includes: classes, material and cultural technologies, cosmology, powers great and small, and lots of story vignettes to set the mood. Oh, and another draw-it-yourself big map. I think I’ll be able to get it printed at 3×3 feet.
  • Uranium Butterflies: Top Cat’s Cut (BIGCAT) – 320 pages of character backgrounds, abilities, mutations, gear, spells and pets for UVG and OGA and really any weird Undying Earth setting you could imagine. This will be a not-very-edited “as is” release.
Fig. 3: Current working cover of Our Golden Age. Final cover TBD.

What’s Coming Later, Part 1: Explanation

I need to backtrack a little bit and explain. Initially, my plan was for Uranium Butterflies (BIGCAT) to be my big release. I essentially finished that book last year in August or so. However, once I finished it, I had a crisis. It didn’t do what I wanted and I didn’t know what to do.

See, in my home group, I’m quite a fan of rules loose systems, where most of the roleplaying experience is carried by the dialogue between players and the rules only come in as needed.

However, during the pandemic (2020-2022), I – like many people – lost my home group and in the process also lost the ability to regularly test BIGCAT against my own live play.

When I got to test it again, the elegant jewel-box of interlocking rules that I had built in BIGCAT, were too robust and crunchy for my person play style.

At much the same time, the UVG sold out and EF approached me about doing a new hardcover edition. I sold them on doing some small revisions, and that ended up taking 4 months.

The time away from UB, and some advice from a monk, gave me perspective on what to do.

The monk basically said, “Don’t throw it away just because you won’t build it further. Release it, let others build on it, and move on.”

So that’s what’s going to happen.

I’m planning to tie in the free digital release of the art-free version of the rules with a limited edition physical kickstarter of the book and some kind of license that makes it dead easy for folks to take those rules and do what they want with them.

As for my games, I ended up writing the 1-page SDM as the “looser” version of the rules that I can build on myself.

Fig. 4: The current cover of Uranium Butterflies (BIGCAT).

What’s Coming Later, Part 2: Elaboration

There are two reasons I’ve decided to go for the more rules-loose SDM over the more intricate (moderately crunchy in forum parlance) BIGCAT:

  1. Taste. It’s a style I’ve grown to prefer over the years.
  2. Time. It is more time-consuming to write for more more complicated systems, and I want to devote more time to illustrating my books and writing fictional vignettes to capture the mood for the players, than to formatting stat blocks. This has become a doubly-important factor as my wife and I are expecting a child—with all that entails.

I’ve also adjusted my workflow over the years. As a self-publishing game designer, author, and illustrator, turning ideas into books is a trade, and making it easier is crucial.

In my rough experience, every additional type of work tends to double the amount of time required to produce a finished book.

Writing is one thing. Add illustration and time is doubled. Add graphic design and time is doubled again. Add print production and time doubles again. Add marketing, social media, and so on … you get the picture.

To speed up the process, I’m simplifying the design and layout process. Going forward, I’ll be producing all my books to a 32-page A5 zine format. This means that bigger books will get split up and released piece by piece. Hopefully, those that do well, will get turned into omnibi—but if we do that through crowdfunding or some other process, I’ll hire a pro book designer to handle the job of stitching zines into books.

I guess I’m taking a page from the comic book industry, after all. :)

Fig. 5: This is pretty much going to be the layout going forward. Same size, same margins, same fonts. I might tweak the tables a bit … not too happy with them yet.

What’s Coming Later, Part 3: Enumeration

  1. BIGCAT to SDM Conversion Zines – a series of 32-page zines taking parts of BIGCAT and adapting it to SDM. Character backgrounds, spells, rules modules.
  2. Some of the half-finished adventures I’ve left parked while I wrote BIGCAT: The Administrators, Dark Prologue, Our Friend the End, Mother Milkweed, and so on. Look – titles are liable to change!
  3. Red Sky as a series of 32-page zines. Let’s finish up the the city of a hundred gates at last! This format should make that easier!
  4. Convert ZOA and Rrypo to this format and bring them into physical reality.
Fig. 6: As you can see, I’ve reduced my grid addiction and simplified my workflow.

Well! Thank you for putting up with this long a-writing. If you thought that was interesting and/or want to be part of the process, why don’t you dock your hypervoid bauble and pull up a chairball in the living room aboard the stratometaship?

Yeah, that were a patreon support pitch.

Go on, enter the voidworm.

Fig. 7: You read all this way! Have a bonus! Welcome to the Crimson Dreaming City.


BIGCAT – The S.E.A.C.A.T. system elaborated in Uranium Butterflies, including hundreds of player options, that I wrote and illustrated during the pandemic.

SDM – Synthetic Dream Machine. The ruleset formerly known as S.E.A.C.A.T.

S.E.A.C.A.T. – The ruleset I released as part of the original UVG. The latest iteration is now known as SDM (see above).

Uranium Butterflies – the 320-page lavishly illustrated book of rules and character options and spells and gear and implied Vastlands setting I wrote during the pandemic.

UVG – Ultraviolet Grasslands. Physical books currently out of print, which is why we decided to do an updated edition with EF.

UVG 2E – Ultraviolet Grasslands 2E. The 2023 reissue coming soon at Exalted Funeral. We bumped up the page count to make art bigger, added some content (more vehicles, more of a bestiary), and removed some rules for release as free zines to focus on adventure and setting.

5 replies on “Roadmap: S.E.A.C.A.T. & the Synthetic Dream Machine”

I’m excited for the future of your gaming ecosystem, Luka. Really loved Longwinter, and I’m planning on getting UVG 2e when it’s out.

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