Today’s comic is once again brought to you by Hypertelluriansa science fantasy RPG set in the future of old. In this episode, we find ourselves on the desert planet of Sonnos, where it appears that an artificial macrostacean has serious objections to the practice of unlicensed xenoarchaeology. While extraterrestrial lobster monsters are a threat to us all, it’s the other hazard depicted here that I really want to talk about. Namely, the apparent lack of player buy-in for setting and tone, because that mess is really hard to achieve.

My own experience with setting-appropriate jargon comes from a Firefly campaign. It’s been a few years since Serenity at this point, but I’m sure you’ll recall all the Chinese “profanity” worked into the show’s dialogue. For a monolingual English speaker who doesn’t know nǐ hǎo from xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ, it is hard to get that part of the experience right. And that’s doubly true thanks to the complex phrases Firefly uses in place of actual Mandarin swearing (gao yang jong duh goo yang indeed!).

It was all down to rote memory for me and the rest of the crew. We weren’t perfect by any means, but we all had our tricks and shortcuts. Some of us wrote out lists of phrases on the backs of our character sheets. Others tried to keep one key phrase to use for all situations. Still others picked a few syllables and swapped ’em around to at least sound setting-appropriate. I even remember our mechanic getting flustered, forgetting all of his studying, and capping a dramatic monologue with, “I don’t care what it takes. I say we take the fight to those… erm… Chinese words bastards!” Dude actually said “Chinese words” out loud.

No doubt any native Mandarin speaker would have been horrified by our butchering of the language. But the reason I bring it up, and the reason I was so proud of my group, was our collective willingness to make the attempt. We’d all seen the show. We were fans. We wanted to try and get it right, even if that was beyond our actual abilities.

Tone is an elusive thing, and conjuring the right feel for a game world takes more than one dedicated GM. It also takes players who are willing to buy into the setting and put forth the effort. If you’re shooting for (as a completely random example) mid-20th century pulp, it’s the little things that can matter the most. You might say “ray emitter” instead of laser, “automaton” or “auto-ambulaton” instead of robot, or “aether ship” instead of space cruiser. These may seem like minor details, but they can make a big difference when it comes to immersion.

And so, for today’s discussion question, what do you say we talk about those moments that break tone? If you’re trying to achiever horror, or cyberpunk, or high medieval, what modern phrases or behavior bring you out of the world and crashing back into the real? Sound off with your negative examples down in the comments! With any luck, that will help us to avoid them in future.


HYPERTELLURIANS! Travel the length and breadth of the Ultracosm in retro science fantasy style. Take control of one of six archetypes, and choose or create a unique concept by layering on fun, inventive, and story-driving powers. Play as a cursed shapeshifter, the wobbling dead, a pilot from a different time, a galvanic war machine, a sorcerous princess, an excitable half pony, an alien color, or so much more.

Try Hypertellurians if you like:

– quick character generation, with fast and daring gameplay,
– compelling and out of this world character powers,
– natural language rules that put the fun first,
– an expedition to the Viridian moon in a stylish aethercraft,
– and science fantasy adventure in the future of old!


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