Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Schools of Sorcery

It amuses me to place primitive worlds in Stars Without Number campaigns.  I like the idea of PCs interacting with worlds that are TL3 or less.  Imagine!  You could visit a 1950s America-like and play The Day the Earth Stood Still from the other side of the conflict.

But maybe more interesting than that are worlds so primitive that the ability of centralized governments or mercantile interests to deal with you is effectively hobbled.  TL1 or so.  Medieval planets.  And, with the survival of strange alien megafauna, hostile flora, weird science phenomena, and psychic powers, those worlds could look a whole lot like a fantasy setting.  To that end, I'd like to create one or more new psychic disciplines.  The goal of these disciplines is to have a slightly weirder, more occult, more baroque feel than the powers in the book.  However, I don't want to violate the precepts underlying the design (avoid fight-winning powers, so not much damage and no dominate) nor do I want to eat too much into the territory of the existing disciplines (I can't throw Dimension Door into the middle of a discipline, that drinks too much of Teleportation's milkshake.)


Schools of Sorcery look more occult.  In theory (and game mechanics) they're just like other psychic disciplines.  In practice, though, since TL1-2 worlds don't have access to advanced psitech training equipment, they have to rely on over-complicated kludges.  Specifically, highly technical systems of visualization and symbolic logic, recorded in books using various arcane ciphers and occult diagrams.  The Religion and Tech/Psitech skills (in-class for psychics) are used to memorize and understand the weird equations necessary for Sorcerous training.  There is nothing keeping an off-world Psychic from one of the established academies from journeying to whatever world I institute this on and learning Sorcery as one of their disciplines.  They would need to begin training Religion and Tech/Psitech when they leveled, if they had not already trained those skills to at least 0.

And now, onto the powers.

Level 1: Detect Evil
This power allows the user to detect the presence of sapient minds around them, within a twenty meter radius.  It does not grant a specific location for any person, but the psychic may gain a rough sense of direction.  People in close groups tend to blur together, and a precise count cannot be gained either.  The most useful aspect of this power is that it will allow the user to pick out if any of the minds are non-human or otherwise very deviant from the norm.  The psychic will know if there are alien sapients, AIs, persons whose minds have become sufficiently twisted by maltech, or who have become insane for other reasons. It does not detect psychic ability, unless the psychic has been driven mad by their powers.  It does not allow the reading of thoughts or states of emotion.  The user can exclude people whom they know well and can see, so it is possible for a member of a group of PCs to find out if anyone other than their colleagues is within range.

Level 2: Detect Magic
This power also works within a twenty meter radius, but gives a more accurate reading on location and numbers.  It identifies if any persons have psychic capability, and if any objects are psitech items.  The closer the user is to the thing that is "pinging" their radar, the more precise they can be about the source of the ping.  If they are touching a person or object when they use this power, they can tell for certain if that person or object has psychic abilities.  Otherwise, they gain only direction, whether it is a person or object, and a rough sense of the strength of the source.

Level 3: Invisibility
The psychic can use their Religion skill modified by Wisdom in place of the Stealth skill for the five minutes after using this power.  Furthermore, they can use their skill in circumstances where it would normally be unreasonable to do so, such as walking right past a guard (the guard would make a normal perception check versus the skill check of the user rather than automatically noticing them.)  This power fails if the user attacks or does anything else that would be conspicuously likely to draw attention to themselves.

Level 4: Dowsing
The psychic can tell if something is within 20 meters by using this power.  It can be general like "water" or "gold," or it can be specific such as "Captain Trask's Journal," if the PCs know such a thing to exist.  It cannot be a person or animal.  The power lasts five minutes.  If the thing to be found is hidden and the PCs must look for it, this power allows the psychic to use their Religion skill modified by Wisdom instead of Perception, and grants a +2 bonus to the search attempt in any case.

Level 5: Evil Eye
You can look at an object or person within ten meters, and gain visions of the most important events they have been involved in within the past 24 hours.  The vision of any given scene will not last more than three seconds, so only a momentary glimpse is possible.  However, it will usually be the most informative three seconds possible.  The GM should be generous, here.  No save.

Level 6: Curse
The psychic can strike someone within twenty meters with a curse.  The GM rolls a save for that person in secret.  If they succeed, they gain a sense of dread and foreboding, but nothing occurs.  If they fail, then at some point within the next 24 hours they will be the victim of an improbable accident, which deals 1d4 damage for each level the psychic has.  The GM is encouraged to be imaginative and lurid if this will result in the death of the target.

Level 7: Identify
The psychic can determine the function and purpose of an object.  This is most useful with psitech devices, where it can be fairly specific.  If used on technological equipment, the results of the power will be vague and general: "Point it at your enemy and pull this switch to harm them."

Level 8: Astral Projection
This power must be used before the psychic goes to sleep.  During the next few hours of rest, the psychic will be able to view places that are known to them (Have either been there before or know the precise location), and are no further away than from the surface of a planet to high orbit.  They cannot hear what is said while they are viewing, but if they are capable of lip-reading they may attempt that.  While invisible, unable to use any of their own other powers, and not truly physically present, it is theoretically possible for a psychic using this ability to be subject to the psychic powers of others while in this state.  If a telepath could gain knowledge that an astrally projecting psychic were present, they could potentially target them with telepathic powers, for example.

Level 9: Tulpa
The psychic is able to create a persistent psychic projection.  A psychic may only have one in existence at a time.  Use the sample stat block for any creature type (pg. 147 SWN Core Edition) OTHER THAN the party-butchering hell beast.  The player and the GM should work together to determine any additional or variant capabilities the creature might have.  For example, the GM should certainly allow an aquatic multi-limbed horror to represent some kind of nightmare squid.  The player can always make a humanoid tulpa regardless of the statblock, and can customize their appearance as they like.  However, a tulpa cannot have the precise appearance of any individual (except the creator, if the creator wants a twin...)

The creation of a new Tulpa takes one week of meditation, during which the Tulpa slowly comes into existence.  The psi points must be expended each day, including the last.  The Tulpa will come into existence with a personality and goals determined by the creator, and the creator can furthermore create them with a few skills, if they are skills the creator possesses (A tulpa can always use its natural weapons without skills.)  If the creator wishes, the Tulpa may have whatever memories the creator chooses to craft, and need not be aware that they are a tulpa.  If the creator has the Telepathy discipline, then no telepath with a lower level of the discipline than the creator had at the time of creation will be able to determine that the memories are artificial.

A creator can dissolve their own Tulpa by using this power again in the Tulpa's presence.  A Tulpa that is not dissolved may eventually gain its own independent existence, at which point the creator will forget that the Tulpa is their creation.  If a tulpa that is not independent is slain, the creator will lose a number of HP equal to half of the Tulpa's maximum HP.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Space Madness Update: Skill Philosophy & Dance-Offs

As I work my way toward an  Alpha 2 version, I'd like to start posting samples and tidbits of things that I just couldn't fit into the Alpha 1.  I was anxious to get it posted, and didn't have time to do everything I wanted.

Skill Hierarchies

First, I'm going to talk a bit about my philosophy of skills.

Some skills are basic, immediate things, that any character who wants to do things should have. For example, if you want to beat the hell out of someone, you should have Boxing. It gives you a straight-up, linearly increasing bonus to-hit. This compensates for the fact that an Immortal gets a slightly less favorable to-hit advancement than a B/X Fighter. Some of these skills are so essential that characters need to have them outright. Multitasking, for example, is the skill that most contributes to Immortals being better starship pilots than the typical crew. Getting more action cards gives you more options for when you can act, even before you start getting other kinds of bonuses and access to extra actions per round.

Other skills are more like what a skill means in a normal RPG. The basic Science skill, for example, means that you know science stuff in a vague and hand-wavey sort of way. I actually don't like that. My goal for skills is that they give fairly definite and mechanistic (if not mechanical) benefits. A magic user in the old school who wants to do spell research doesn't have to make a lot if intelligence checks or have a spellcraft skill; their chance of success is based on time, money, and their level. That's how I want it to work. If you want to bio-engineer a duckbunny, I don't want the Referee to have to make up a lot of difficulties and for you to have to roll skills to do it. Really, it should be more like:

1. You need this amount of lab equipment (This is actually a great kind of requirement, because it means the PCs have to set down roots somewhere, maybe guard their facilities, etc.

2. You need certain skills (again, I want there to be a mechanistic requirement.)

3. You need the two critters to be melded together into an abomination of science (easy for a duck and a bunny, could be an adventure hook for anything more interesting.)

4. You need a certain amount of money in supplies or whatever (Keep the characters poor and greedy at all times!)

5. Time.

And then poof, there's a duckbunny. Maybe there's a check that isn't too hard, and you can roll every week until you succeed. Or maybe it just takes 1d4+1 weeks. Give the player some variance so they can't plan everything precisely. Unless they've made a duckbunny before, or hacked a corporate mainframe and stole another scientists' work. If it's the former, this is too boring to be worth time. if it's the latter, you've already got an adventure hook out of it and you can just let them have it.


Skills come in hierarchies. I'm going to use Science as an example, but there are certainly more different skills than that.

The basic Science skill doesn't do much on its own. It's a way for the Referee to hand out information. If a player finds a weird phenomenon floating out in space and they have Science IV and nothing else, the Referee shouldn't give them a lot of data. "It's some kind of gravitic-dimensional vortex. You don't have any idea what it might do, but it's at least potentially dangerous. You can use your ship's computer to store the readings you're getting. You could possibly sell the data, but you don't know what it is or what it's worth. If someone wants to do some research you could find a professor of dimensional mechanics or someone like that to do a consultation with...or you could just throw an avatoid in a vacc suit through it and see what happens." (Suggestions like this are good, because they give the players a sense of the setting and context. Also, the players often come up with the best plans when they are like "Well, that is bullshit, we'll do something totally different and throw the referee a curveball.")

Science makes a good introductory skill because it's a cheap Factor I skill that has obvious RP implications.  Everyone knows kinda what science is and has an idea of what someone who took a bunch of science survey courses in college should know.  Or at least you could figure it out with wikipedia.  Actually, that's a pretty good mechanic: At this level, you can consult wikipedia OOC to see what your character knows.

A tier above introductory skills are specialization skills. This is like Biology Specialization. It's a higher factor, it's more expensive. It lets a player who is most interested in a given part of a general skill get additional bonuses in that skill. Depending on the prerequisites, it can let them get more bonus more cheaply at a cost of general skill.

The third tier in the chain is where things start to get interesting. Third-Tier skills should be adding new capabilities. In this case, Bioengineering lets you start making your own monsters. It's not necessarily directly combat-relevant (although it could be, if you make some kind of cool war-python that you can ride on, instead of an adorable litter of duckbunnies.)

Fourth-tier skills should be major rulebreaking bullshit. They have high Factors, are expensive, have major prerequisites, and let you break the game rules by doing things like jacking up all your attributes.  The skill that does that, by the way, is Clone Enhancement.  If you read it, you'll note that it requires facilities, time, and money, in addition to being a Factor IV skill, and thus pretty expensive in terms of time and money.

Dance-Off Skills

First, start with your first-tier skill.

Factor: 1, FREE
Unskilled: Human Characters with no Athletics skill can make at most one move action per round, and have Speed 4.
I: Character’s rank in this skill is added to any attempt to swim, jump, climb, play sports, etc.
II: Speed 5.
III: +1 Encumbrance Slot.
IV: Speed 6.
V: The character can make an additional Move action per round.

Secondly, you take a specialty in Dance. You only know you have to do this because "Dance Specialty" is listed as a prerequisite for competitive Dance.

Dance Specialty
Factor: 2
Prerequisites: Athletics III.
I: Like the other Athletics specialties, this skill will simply add to any attempts to do the specialized thing. In the case of Dance, we can assume that (like most Immortal skills) it's very broad, and covers anything from formal ballroom dance to impromptu mocking jigs.

Now, the third-tier skill. This one starts opening up weird new mechanical realms. Note that none of these skills require a IV or even V in their prerequisite. We want a character to be able to buy into this without a huge time investment. For a mid-level character (level 5, 10 SP per week), you could very easily become a professionally skilled dancer in just a few weeks, and start taking part in competitions as one of the lower-ranked competitors. I personally think that Level 5 is probably around the sweet spot for campaign play. Characters should have the skills, equipment, and competence to begin doing larger and more self-directed projects. They have room to pick skills up on a whim.

Competitive Dance
Factor: 3
Prerequisites: Dance Specialty III
Description: Any character may take part in a dance-off! They can use the skills and attribute bonuses they do possess, even if they don’t have the prerequisites to issue a challenge, or don’t have the Dance specialties. However, if they have this skill and the Challenge skill, they can Serve opponents to force a dance-off.
I: Your rank in this skill adds to any skill checks to dance. Specifically, it covers highly athletic breakdancing, or similar moves. You may Serve opponents with a dance-off challenge if you also have the Challenge skill. If you roll a natural 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Step It Up move.
II: If you roll a natural 17 or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Tag In move.
III: If you roll a natural 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Denouement move.
IV: If you roll a natural 15, 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Stomp move.
V: If you roll a natural 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Bite Their Style move.

I'm not going to belabor how the tiers work anymore. Just know that the Challenge skill requires the first-tier Social and the second-tier Intimidate Specialty.

Factor: 3
Prerequisite: Intimidate Specialization III
Description: This skill allows your character to issue serves to their opponents. Someone getting Served is a necessary prerequisite to forcing another character to engage in a Dance-Off, Rap Battle, or other Challenge.
I: Your rank in this skill adds to attempts to Serve an NPC.

Dance-Off Mechanics


The tradition of various kinds of Challenges evolved across the galaxy to allow confrontations between heroic characters without death and bloodshed. It’s a way for characters to show off their skill and craft and still both walk away. They are viewed as sacred, and to violate their tradition is a source of crushing shame.

The kind of challenge available in the basic game is a dance-off. This displays the physical prowess of the parties and is viewed as suitable across cultures.

The following general rules apply to all challenges:

1. The target of the challenge must be a significant character or NPC within sight and hearing of the challenger. A horde of random hobgoblins cannot be Served. If there is a chieftain among the hobgoblins, though, then the chieftain could be the target of a challenge. Heroic characters like the PCs should almost always be able to tell which members of a group of NPCs are significant enough to warrant a challenge. Unintelligent creatures cannot be served. A horde of undead is immune to service, but the vampire leader can still be served. (Vampires are incredibly vain, they will almost never turn down a Challenge.)

2. A Serve must be issued before the fighting starts. Winning initiative and using your action card is good enough, so long as no one has made any attacks yet. Serves must be in person, they cannot be done via starship comms.

3. All hit point losses are rounded up, so that more damage is taken. However, no one can ever be reduced below 1HP by the results of Shame from a Challenge. The whole point is that they are non-lethal.

4. By serving or accepting a challenge, the party agrees on a meta-game level to allow the loser to retreat in peace. The loser is not so bound. They may, if they wish, attack the winner. This is regardless of who issued the serve.

5. If retreating would mandate abandoning a valuable position or treasure, that is, if the encounter has more stakes than simply being a loser or winner and ceding the field, then the party who receives the serve may receive a bonus to resist it at the discretion of the Referee. If the balance of forces is so hugely one-sided that the stronger party believes they are under no threat, then they may automatically refuse a successful challenge without sustaining Shame damage. However, it is obligatory in this case to then offer the Challenger reasonable terms for Surrender.

6. In order to serve, the serving party need merely announce it. If the target is within sight and hearing, and is able to understand the serv, they have the choice to simply accept without rolling. Serving someone to have a dance-off can be done without a common language, Rap Battles depend on mutual fluency in some shared language.

7. If the defending party does not wish to accept Service, then the parties can roll dice. The Server rolls 3d6 + Social + Intimidate Specialty + Challenge + Their Charisma modifier. The difficulty of issuing a successful challenge is 20. For every five by which they beat this difficulty, the defender's saving throw is penalized by 2. (-2 at 25, -4 at 30, etc.) If the Servee wishes to resist a successful Serve, they can roll a save v. spell, penalized as above.

8. If the Server beats the difficulty and the Servee forgoes or fails the saving throw, they have been Served. The Servee must now either accept the challenge or suffer Shame.

9. If the Servee rejects a successful Serve, they must take 25% of their current HP in damage. ALTERNATELY, one of their allies who is present may accept the Serve on their behalf. This relieves the original Servee, and the original Server may not withdraw their challenge. You want to make sure that the other side doesn't have an incredible dancer hidden in the back before you issue a challenge.

10. Once someone has given, rejected, or accepted a Serve in a given encounter, they cannot then Serve or be Served by anyone who was party to that encounter (that is, anyone who was served or served someone, or any of their allies who were present) for a period of 24 hours.

11. Once a challenge is accepted, either voluntarily or by force, then all the action must stop until the Challenge is complete. This does affect mindless NPCs if they are led by any character who is a valid target for a challenge. The referee is welcome to interpret this as broadly as they like.

12. Unless otherwise stated, the Server acts first in the Challenge.

There can be multiple different kinds of challenges, possibly unique to the individual campaign. Dance-offs are the most universal, and are described below.

The goal of a dance-off, mechanically, is to make the single best poker hand that it is possible for the player to have. All the poker cards issued are kept face-up on the table in front of the player collecting them; everyone can tell how well someone is doing. The way to accumulate cards is to have the character successfully execute moves.

Each round consists of three moves by each involved party. Each successful move gains the player one card from the poker deck. Special moves are used in addition to the regular move that triggers them, and do not give you additional cards. The most cards it is possible for a player to have, at the end of the dance-off, is 9. The standard roll in a dance-off is a D20 + the character’s Charisma modifier + the total of their physical attribute modifiers + Athletics + Dance Specialty + Competitive Dance.

The Round: Each party to the dance-off makes the standard roll three times, in sequence. The Server acts first. Each roll is a move. The Difficulty of the roll is 25. If they succeed, then they have executed the dance move correctly and they gain a card. If they roll a special move due to a high natural roll of the die, and that roll is high enough to succeed at the current Difficulty, they resolve that immediately, before making any further normal moves. It’s the special moves that make things interesting.

Step it Up: You can use your special move to step up your game, and use more impressive moves. If you choose to do this, immediately reroll your move at a difficulty two higher. If you fail, your regular and special move both fail, and you do not get a card for this move. If you succeed, you gain a card as normal and the difficulty for all moves after this are increased by two, for all dancers involved in this dance-off. This special move can be used multiple times by multiple dancers. It allows highly skilled characters to shut less-skilled characters out of the competition.

Tag In: You tag in one of your teammates. This does not require a roll, but the teammate must be willing. Immediately put your hand of cards (including the one from the move you just made, if it was successful) in between you and the teammate you just tagged in. In the final hand, either you or your teammate can use any of the cards in this common hand (this is very similar to Texas Hold ‘Em.) Any cards you earn after this division are yours only, and any cards your ally earns after this division are hers only.

Your teammate will take a turn (all three rolls) at the end of the round, and at each round thereafter. This Move is most successful when used in Round 1 with a highly skilled teammate. When you use this move, one of your opponent’s allies may immediately step up as well, with no roll required. If so, your opponent must divide off the common cards for their side in just the same way that you and your ally did.

Denouement: This special move may only be used during Round 3. Make a single Move roll, directly opposed, against any opponent currently participating in the dance-off. The winner may switch any one of the loser's cards with any other card that is currently in play.

Stomp: This can only be used if you have the agreement of a majority of your allies to use it, and requires a natural 18 regardless of what numbers you normally gain special moves on. Make an additional Move roll against a difficulty of 35. If you succeed, Shame will apply to everyone on the field who is party to the conflict. If you win the dance-off, all enemies suffer Shame. If you lose, you and all of your allies suffer Shame. Whether you succeed or fail on this roll, your opponent may immediately use the Tag In maneuver on any three of their allies, or alternately draw three more cards for themselves and keep them face-down. If there are already multiple opponents tagged in, the face-down cards can be used by any or all of them to form a hand at the end of the dance-off.

Bite Their Style: When you choose to use this special move, do not draw a card immediately. Instead, choose an opponent and roll 3d6 + your Wisdom mod + Cold Read against their roll of 3d6 + Charisma mod + Deceive Specialty (if they have it. Social does not count.) If you succeed, you can figure out your opponent’s dance strategy and pre-empt their favorite moves. Draw a card normally, and your opponent needs one higher number to get a special move result. For example, if they would normally need a natural 17 or 18, they now need a natural 18. On a failure, you do not draw a card as you flub the move.

This can be used multiple times on a single opponent. It can result in an opponent being unable to use special moves at all. Once you fail using this move, you cannot use it again for the rest of the day.

Finishing the Dance-Off
Determine which player has the best hand using normal poker rules. That player chooses which if any of the other characters who participated in the match are to suffer Shame. Shamed characters lose half of their current HP, rounded up. This cannot reduce any character below 1 HP. This is not considered to be taking damage, and no Armor, Shields, or other normal methods of reducing damage apply. At this point, the losers must be allowed to slink away by the winners. Jeers may be directed their way, but no hostile spells or other actions. However, if the losers decide to attack anyway, they may. Their names may live on in infamy, but this does not garner them any additional Shame (at least not of the kind that is mechanically represented by HP loss.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Why have I been so quiet lately?  I've been working on my own Spaceships, Swords, & Sorcery OSR game.  It's currently at a very rough alpha stage, and I'd like to have people work it over for a while before I build further on a foundation that may turn out to be shaky.  Particularly, I'd appreciate it if people could stomp on the space combat system for a while and tell me what works and what doesn't.  All other commentary is also appreciated, of course.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nonpareil, I

As I have mentioned before, I'm currently working on my own OSR-compatible game.  I think my influences will be fairly obvious, but I'm trying to remix them in an interesting way.  There's some recycling of ideas I've played with before, but I think that's inevitable when I'm basically writing a game that consists of all the things that I personally think are cool.

My goal here is not to write anything very sophisticated, or even necessarily something that I'd feel comfortable charging money for.  I'm trying to make something interesting, and hopefully playable.  It's a game that is going to work best with long-term campaign play, where the GM keeps track of months and years and the PCs have regular "down-time" periods.  This is due to a combination of factors:

1. Even low-level PCs will have access to the kinds of resources and considerations more typical of Name-level characters.

2. Characters gain XP and levels in the same way that OSR-fans will be used to, but their Skills train up as a function of in-game time.  They increase at the same rate per week regardless of the characters' activity, but a break of a month here or there to polish up some skills can be worth it if their next adventure promises to be a tough one.

On the other hand, higher-level characters gain more skill points than lower-level characters do, and buying new skills to train costs money, so sitting around for years as some Level 1 dweeb in an attempt to gain a skill-based advantage is a losing strategy.

And now, the Setting:


The galaxy is a vast and mostly unexplored place. The dominion of humans covers hundreds of earthlike worlds, whether independent or bound up in one of the Empires. Alien menaces, otherworldly horrors, and simple internal strife threaten everyone. And now, the greatest discovery in the history of space exploration has begun to throw everything into chaos.


Humanity ascended into new heights of power when a certain set of technology was combined: Cybernetic amplification systems, quantum neurology, faster-than-light starships, bioengineering, and ansible communications. These things in combination allowed the creation of the Immortals.

An Immortal is a cloned human with Cybernetic Implant (CI) jack in the back of their skull and a lace of superconducting neural assistance hardware woven through their brain. Their CI allows them to control a warship as quickly and precisely as if it were their own body, and in the event of its destruction to transfer their brain-state to a waiting clone. Ansible hardware allows the instantaneous and absolutely secure transmission of information to anywhere in the galaxy, so long as it is tuned to an ansible capable of receiving it. This transfer destroys the ansible when it is used to transfer as much information as is required to rebuild a human brain, but most Immortals don’t mind paying for a new ansible and a new clone if it keeps them alive. A normal ansible is capable of moving a fair amount of data, probably as much as a healthy modern broadband internet connection, without risk of the waveform collapsing and destroying the ansible. An ansible that collapses in this way cannot be repaired. So, there is plenty for video, text, and voice communication. But some things strain even the ludicrous data storage capacity of galactic civilization, such as the quantum information packets that are used for skill software or an Immortal brain-state. Those must be either physically moved (for the former) or suffer the destruction of the sending and receiving ansible (for the latter.)

The use of Immortal starship pilots gave humanity a powerful edge in space warfare. Their ability to download skills and learn them at a vastly greater rate, plus to deploy them without any of the inefficiency or imprecision of normal starship controls, made an experienced Immortal the equal of dozens of mortal crew.

And, as time went on, they grew even beyond that. The whole wealth of space and the entire field of human achievement was open to them. By transferring to younger clones on a regular basis, Immortals did not age. Over the decades, they could use their ability to amass vast skill to become masters of every field of human endeavor. Unstoppable generals, brilliant scientists, experts on every kind of intrigue, captains of industry, lords of finance, and a match for a score of soldiers in personal combat, all of these things rolled into one. There was no stopping them. The greatest of the Immortals, the most ambitious, could not be prevented from taking over whole clusters of star systems, and declaring themselves God-Emperors. As many as a dozen have ascended to heights of power unimaginable to a mundane human. They sit in their palace-complexes deep within planetary cores, with post-singularity minds and hangars full of nanofabrication equipment, plotting unthinkable plots and pursuing incomprehensible goals.


The campaign begins twenty-four hours after an ansible signal from a lone deep space exploration frigate began transmitting to every major newsfeed in human civilization. Alyssa Marceaux, Immortal pilot of the Corbeau, had found something unprecedented.

A Dyson sphere, something infinitely far beyond the ability of any known civilization to construct, hanging like a black jewel in the infinite reach of space. The sphere was approximately 2 AU in diameter and spun to have an apparent internal gravity of 1.05g. There was a second inner “sphere,” a complex of gaps and solar collecting shades that produced a day-night cycle on the inner surface. Megastructure cables connected the shades to larger gaps at the north and south poles of the sphere, and transmitted power to whatever technology kept the whole thing running.

The base material of the sphere’s outer shell was impervious to any attempt to analyze it or even take a sample, so Captain Marceaux gave up on it quickly. A dotting of several thousand “vanes” penetrated from the outside of the sphere to the interior. Each one was a tunnel around a hundred kilometers across the interior and close to a thousand high. That was enough to keep the atmosphere settled around the habitable areas, rather than pouring out into space. Confident in her Immortality so long as she was inside her spaceship, Marceaux emerged from the inner portal of the vane to find an earthlike habitat that covered the entire inner surface of the sphere. Medieval civilizations of human (and inhuman…) peoples dotted a landscape that covered one hundred and seventy nine million times the surface area of old lost Terra. There was more habitable area than the entirety of humanity’s sphere of influence; maybe more than would be found in the entire galaxy combined. (There are five thousand vanes, not counting the larger gaps at the poles, evenly distributed about the surface of the sphere. Each vane therefore serves an area equivalent to about thirty-five thousand earths.)

She seeded micro-probes over the landscape and continued surveying. Every hour, a new update of photographs and scans came in. The locals had strange powers unexplainable by science. There was genetic diversity here beyond anything imaginable. There were nonhuman sapient species found nowhere else in the galaxy so far. There was untapped wealth here beyond measure, both in living space, resources, and information. Marceaux refused to sell the coordinates to a private party or even a government. A crowdfunded request met her ransom of one billion credits in a matter of only hours, deposited into her personal secure credit accounts. She gave the coordinates, officially registered the megastructure with the name Nonpareil, said goodbye, and disappeared from the information net. It has been four hours since transmissions ceased, and it seems that every freebooter, treasure hunter, and ambitious Immortal in the entirety of human civilization is making preparations to travel to those coordinates.


Any questions or comments may be directed to the comments section below.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Go Give People Money

The Bundle of Holding outfit is currently selling a nice package of Stars Without Number PDFs.  This is a great chance to donate some money to a food pantry and also get some electronic loot at less than the normal price.

The blog has been quiet because I'm working on my own OSR-compatible game.  I'll be posting about that soon, but I wanted to give any readers a heads-up about the above.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An alternate combat system for SWN, Achievements, and a Campaign Update

Okay, the formatting on this post is weird for some reason...

Alternate Combat System

I'm not actually preparing to implement this in my game, but I thought I'd noodle around with what SWN combat might look like if to-hit was a skill check, and armor functioned as Damage Resistance.  The necessary changes are as follows.

Armor Class starts at zero, and is modified up or down by Dexterity.  A character with 18 Dexterity has an AC of 2, for example. Shields give +1 to AC as appropriate (see the tech level comparisons in the entry on shields).  Field Emitter Panoplies give +4 to AC, and Deflector Arrays give +2.  If you are aware of incoming ranged attacks, you may add your Athletics skill rating to your Armor Class against them.

Armor typically grants Damage Resistance. Damage Resistance is subtracted from damage dealt in combat, but does not protect against falling damage.  TL4 armor may or may not protect against environmental hazards, at the discretion of the Referee.  Damage resistances are as follows:
Leather Jack: 1
Metal Mail: 3
Metal Plate: 5
Armored Undersuit: 2
Woven Body Armor: 3
Combat Field Uniform: 4
Assault Suit: 5
Powered Armor: 6
Field Emitter Panoply: 5
Deflector Array: 4
Advanced weapons still ignore low-tech body armor.  Powered Armor and Field Emitter Panoplies still render the wearer impervious to low-tech weapons.

Range is divided into Point Blank, Short, Normal, and Extreme.  Point Blank is melee range, around a step or two.  Short is up to five meters away.  Normal and Extreme are up to those distances as listed in the book for a given weapon.  The Crude Pistol has no Normal Range; it jumps straight from Short to Extreme.  Point Blank shots are treated as a melee attack, Short range attacks have no modifier, Normal range attacks are at -2 to hit, Extreme range attacks are at -4 to hit.

Melee combat is mutual.  When one character attacks an armed adversary who has reason to expect the attack, they both roll the appropriate skill.  On a tie, neither takes damage.  If the attacker rolls better, he deals damage to the loser.  If the defender rolls better, he deals half his normal damage (round down, but no lower than 1 point) to the attacker.  A character may use Primitive to attack unarmed, although they do not receive the bonuses that the Unarmed skill gives.  A character with Combat/Unarmed of at least 1 is always considered armed and may respond to melee attacks as though having a weapon. Two unarmed characters who are relatively unskilled with unarmed combat can, in fact, flail uselessly at each other for a significant amount of time.

How to Roll to Hit: Roll 2d6 and add your skill and attack bonus, and apply a range modifier if you are using a ranged weapon.  Subtract your opponent's Armor Class.  You hit on an 8+, and deal damage as normal for your weapon, less their armor's Damage Resistance rating.

Special Results: Natural Boxcars ignore enemy armor.

Likely Effects

I believe this will make Melee combat potentially uglier, in that damage will usually get dealt to somebody.  Armor functioning as DR will often cause characters to die more slowly, as they are less likely to be taken out in one big hit.  Highly skilled characters (such as Warriors who have moderate levels and substantial weapon skills) will essentially never miss.  Some weapons are simply ineffective against heavy armor.  My answer to this is to play up the ban on wearing armor in civilization.  Nobody should be wearing anything heavier than an armored undersuit in public in civilized places.  The Athletics skill becomes much more valuable.  Low-level characters will have trouble hitting even an unarmored target at long ranges.


I'm inspired here by the work of one of the users of the Stars Without Number G+ Group. If you aren't a Google+ user, by the way, it is OSR heaven out there.  Seriously, it's like Facebook for nerd hobbies.  The following is probably something I will implement in my own campaign.  Essentially, giving out some XP awards encourages the PCs to do things, and giving out XP awards for lots of different things encourages them to try more different stuff.  Achievements are much like achievements in videogames.  When you do one, note it down.  If it's an individual XP award, you get it for doing that thing.  If it's a party XP award, the XP goes into the pot and is split among everyone at the end of the adventure.  Any given character or party can only receive an award once, as appropriate to the type of award it is.  I've split the awards into types in order to help make sure that there are lots of different areas where the PCs can get achievement XP, and again encourage them to branch out.

These numbers probably seem fairly high.  That's because I started my PCs out at 4th level, and I wanted them to be large enough to be meaningful.  If you were starting from Level 1, it would be entirely appropriate to cut all these numbers in half.  There are two awards here that grant 1M XP.  Considering that they would both require years of in-game effort and vast fortunes to be expended, I don't consider them imbalanced.  They probably shouldn't even be attempted by characters who aren't around Name Level.

Please note that PCs cannot, in my campaign, level more than once per XP award.  They'll land 1XP short of gaining that next level.

Combat Achievements

Kill someone using unarmed combat or an improvised weapon: 1,000
Get dropped to 0HP in combat: 1,000
Use a Gunnery weapon in non-starship combat: 1,000

Destroy an armed, spike-drive equipped space vessel in space combat: 10,000
Kill a named adversary of at least 8HD: 5,000
Engage in a car chase that involves exchanging gunfire and making skill checks.  "Car chase" can mean anything from Hovercycles to horses, but not spacecraft:  5,000
Use a nuclear weapon in anger: 10,000
Heist: Carry off a major theft with no shots fired: 10,000

Exploration Achievements

Learn a local language unknown to any other PC.  Must happen in play for the award to apply.  This can be a part of gaining Culture/World 0, but it will probably take a few months spent on-planet: 2,000.
Have something significant named after you: 2,000

Do complete surveys of at least three unexplored star systems.  This involves 24 hours of surveying for each major orbital body, and probably ground excursions to several: 10,000
Name and Colonize an uninhabited world.  A functional Colony includes copious supplies and at least 30,000 inhabitants.  This will be an extraordinarily serious undertaking in terms of time, attention, and resources, as the PCs are expected to take a hands-on role at every step of the operation: 1M
Participate in a terraforming operation in a significant way: 20,000
Make a substantial contribution to the State and the Academe's efforts to regain access to TL5 technology: 20,000.
Spend at least two weeks continuously inhabiting a TL1, TL0, or uninhabited world, without trips back to the spacecraft or similar: 10,000

Medical Achievements

Revive a PC or NPC reduced to 0 or less using a Lazarus Patch: 1,000
Use Anagathics for two years straight: 3,000

Deliver high-tech medical supplies to a low-tech world, preferably for humanitarian reasons: 5,000
At least one PC obtains a cybernetic implant: 5,000

Setting & Miscellaneous Achievements

Spend a month living it up.  This means you stay on one world for an entire month, doing not much of anything mechanically relevant.  You might be able to train a single skill concurrent to your vacation time, so long as it's one the Referee agrees is not onerous to learn.  Your lifestyle cost for this month is 3,000Cr, plus extra for Anagathics.  this represents an Elite lifestyle.  This can be done on a low-tech world, but it may require additional effort to make sure your resources translate, and the environment must be appropriately luxurious.  1,000.
Spend a month REALLY living it up.  As above, you must spend the time on one world, doing nothing of much consequence.  Your lifestyle cost for this month is 30,000, plus extra for Anagathics.  This represents a Peerless lifestyle.  Otherwise as above. Attempting this on worlds below TL3 is very difficult.  10,000.

Obtain a brand new starship superior to your prior one, and begin using it as your primary vessel: 10,000
Wreck a TL1 or lower society of at least 100,000 people, or do proportional damage to a larger civilization. 50,000XP.
Fund a Prometheus Project and raise the TL of a civilization of at least 100,000 people by 1 Tech Level. 1M.
Make a successful, peaceful trade run, that turns a profit and has no Trouble: 5,000XP.
Successfully smuggle substantial illegal cargo: 5,000.

Social Achievements

Obtain (permanent) Status 3 within the Academe: 2,000
Appear on a major television or radio show: 3,000
Compete in an important local contest or competition of some kind, and make a creditable showing: 2,000

Build your brand.  Make a concerted and sustained effort to establish your group as a business concern: 10,000
Thwart the purposes of a major planetary government in a conspicuously heroic fashion: 30,000
Gain an NPC of major power and importance as an ally.  Think of high State officials, Navy Admirals, planetary governors, etc: 10,000
Be personally responsible for a major societal shift: 20,000
Maintain a Level 3 Corporate Headquarters, with an appropriate Factor hired and using all 12 Holdings points, for at least a year: 20,000

Campaign Update

The PCs have obtained the services of Spood, a telepathic alien who can translate between them and his own kind.  They are currently marching through the ruined city and causing problems.  They've annihilated a few monsters using their superior TL4 weapons, and the leaders of the alien tribes are rapidly trying to figure out how to point the PCs at their own problems.

During their perambulations, they found a treasure hoard after fighting a nest of Robber Flies (I am using monsters and treasure as per the Rules Cyclopedia.)  This included a number of coins and also an item of jewelry, worth 7,500gp.  I explained to them that this would be a huge deal to the locals of a TL1/TL0 world, but that to them it was worth at most a handful of credits as an item of native artwork.  Gold and gems are worth practically nothing to spacefarers.  See the entry for Trade Metals, SWN Core Book, pg. 40-41.

They have retained it, for possible use as a bribe.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Surprise & Reaction Rolls, Campaign Update

One thing I have not found in the Stars Without Number core book is rules for surprise and reaction.  This is probably because it is a modern, sensible game, and is not intended to deal with multiple random encounters per game-day.  Well, I am not a modern or sensible Referee, and my PCs are often engaged in overland travel or exploration of weird alien complexes, because my specific campaign is D&D In Space, more or less.  So, I am importing my slightly house-ruled Surprise & Reaction Roll rules.  You might think of these as being a clarification more than a real change.

If you are not familiar with old-school D&D, the second-best introduction to these concepts is the D&D Basic Set Rulebook, part of the B/X edition of the grand dame of RPGs.  I'm going to straight-up pimp that product out right here: B/X is the most elegant and well-explained edition of D&D that has ever existed.  That book is five bucks.  Play three or four sessions of it with a DM that uses all of the rules as written (or do it yourself), including encumbrance, turn-counting, light sources, random encounters, reaction rolls, and morale rules, and you will suddenly understand why all those things exist.  If you are like me, you grew up playing D&D and ignored all those rules, and thus thought they were boring and didn't understand why they exist.  You might still hate them after playing that way, but you'll understand how they interact, and it's a much more interesting piece of game design than its usually given credit for.

In any event, I make reference to those rules.


This one is the easy one.  When two groups of similar size run into each other, you roll 1d6 for each group.  If either side rolls a 1 or 2, they are surprised for the first round.  I personally don't always roll for this.  If a small group is creeping up on a large and boisterous one, the smaller group will not be surprised, and can probably get a look at the other side.  They may or may not surprise the other side if they actually attempt to attack them.

In the case of surprise, the unsurprised side gets one round of actions, which may or may not be hostile.  If the surprising side successfully uses stealth instead of attacking, or chooses to attempt evasion, the surprised side may never become aware of their presence.

Reaction Rolls

Reaction rolls are of vital importance, because they help make sure you don't have to fight every goddamn thing you meet.  Ignoring these makes old-school dungeon and wilderness adventures much too deadly.  At least half of random encounters should be resolved peacefully, unless your players are actually looking for fights.

The way I handle these is a little different from basic B/X: You do not make a reaction roll until the NPCs or Monsters gain their first opportunity to act.  PCs don't get to know how things are likely to play out until they start playing out.  Further, do not apply any PC's Charisma modifier to the roll until they actually speak to the NPC or monster using a shared language or otherwise usefully communicate.

I prefer to do things this way because it forces the players to make a calculus of how they use a surprise round, for example.  Do they open fire while the getting is good?  Or do they have their Face start talking and apply their bonus?  PCs in SWN will tend not to have quite so large of attribute bonuses available, and the PCs may therefore not have a character handy with a high Charisma bonus.  If someone has substantial skill with Persuade, Leadership, etc., you might go ahead and give them an extra +1 to their charisma modifier when they share a language and can negotiate.

If the reaction roll is hostile but not "immediate attack," I'll usually let the PCs make their pitch and then apply any bonus they may have to whatever the original roll was.  This does mean that a party with a good Face character will usually be able to avoid hostilities with random encounters, but I don't see that as a downside.  There's always killer robots, assassins, and bioengineered horrors available if you don't want the PCs to talk their way out of every fight.

Considering the damage numbers in SWN, though, PCs have a lot of motivation to talk their way out of fights, and you should probably usually let them do it.

Campaign Update

The PCs have encountered a quasi-tribe of exiled Lethix living in the eastern district of the ruined city, in the floating domed enclosure that they are currently exploring.  They share no common languages, but the Lethix have an extreme predisposition to Telepathic abilities.  The Lethix group has a sort of telepathic Shaman who has mastered the Level 2 telepathic ability to communicate regardless of language, and he has therefore been conducting negotiations.  Right now, one of the PCs has volunteered to undergo "examination" to determine if they are truly friendly or if they are emissary of "Korgok," some sort of sinister supernatural figure or evil god that the Lethix fear.  

It turns out that "examination" means the Shaman will be digging through the PC's memory in search of where they come from and their purpose.  Since the Lethix are TL1 barbarians with no concept of a universe outside their little domed paradise, this is going to blow his mind.

This is a good step, because the Lethix can tell the PCs a whole lot about what is going on in the area, and thus entangle them in local issues and give them plot hooks.

Other stuff you should read:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flare: A Supers Setting Pitch

It starts with the intense, red glow over the rooftops. I'd been walking for hours and was ready to pack it in for the night, but sometimes that's just how the luck breaks. I started running toward where I estimated it had been fired from. Fancy gated community. It wasn't hard to find, there were two black-and-whites and an unmarked in front of one of the houses. You could tell the unmarked from just any other car because it wasn't expensive enough to belong in that neighborhood. I pulled my mask on, a really basic one with just a domino, and opened my jacket so the insignia on my shirt was visible. Then I jumped the fence and came in through the back.

The police were expecting us, of course. They weren't allowed to send up the signal anymore. Technically they weren't even allowed to have them, just in case there'd be a misunderstanding, but the older ones, especially the detectives, especially anyone who had been on the night shift a long time, they had them anyway. It was all very deniable. Wink and a nod law enforcement. Not that what we were doing was really law enforcement.

"Can you find him? Can you find my baby? We can get the money, we'll pay it, but the police say we can't just pay the money, that it doesn't help..." She was wringing her hands right next to me, the mother, and I never knew what to say in situations like this. Did I try to play it up with bravado and maybe make her feel better. Should I try to hedge my bets and be honest? I told her the truth. I told her that I could find any lost or missing thing, and that if her little boy was still alive, we would come back with him or not at all. She broke down crying and I don't know if I said the right thing or not, but it was true and I will always stand by the truth.

I assumed there would be a 'we.' Within ten minutes or so, two more showed up. I knew Lighthouse, but not the other one, who said her name was Staccato. The police showed us what had happened. There in the boy's bedroom, and he wasn't really a baby, from the robots and toy guns I'd say he was eight or nine, there was a shadow under the bed. An umbral darkness, like a hole in the floor. Lighthouse shone a light at it, but the darkness ate it up...no. You could see dust motes. There was a space down there.

I went and knelt down and there was a blackness floating there in the space between the bottom of the bed and where the floor should be. I knew that this was where the boy had gone, that it was the shortest route to him. I put my hand in there, and it was like a doorway into another room. Some kind of dimensional thingy. You never really knew. The wrongness of it was revolting, sickening. Everyone who wasn't a mask had to look away, it was like some weird Escher thing, sitting dark and hungry in the middle of a normal well-lit room. I reached to where the bottom of the bed should be, and there was nothing but dark space. My hand should have been sticking out of the top of the mattress, but from the shoulder on I was in some other place, not a little boy's bedroom at all. The uniforms had all stayed outside the bedroom, couldn't take looking at it and there was no reason to.

The detective was a tall, wiry man, bald with salt-and-pepper eyebrows. He stayed, but had to struggle to keep from throwing up. It took most people that way. He showed me the ransom note. Low seven figures. I didn't get anything that mattered from the note, but he was brave to be here and ashamed that he could do no more than that, so I thanked him and told him he'd been a huge help. That I wanted him to keep the family calm for us. Three was enough, you almost never got more than three, and so Staccato and Lighthouse and me dropped down into the darkness under the bed while the sick, scared, brave detective held the frame up for us. I know that putting even his fingers into that shadow had to be one of the scariest things he had ever done. Most people couldn't have done even that. Normal people, anyway, people who didn't have a second face.


The way it happened to me is not the way it happens for everybody. I think it's always different. But I've been around the block enough times that I've actually talked to some of the others. Real Talk, not just terse discussion or whispered conference. So I guess the following is a pastiche of themes I've heard repeated and things that I believed enough to write them down.

You have to live in a city. Nobody has ever heard a of a mask from a rural area. You have to feel like some inchoate thing is missing from your life, like there's a part of you that just isn't there. You need to fast, and make a dark room and line the walls with mirrors, and light it with only a candle. No sunlight. No clocks. Nobody should know you are there and nobody should be checking on you. You have to watch the mirrors, from at least one dawn to the next dawn. Eventually you'll see your other face in the mirror. It might take a few tries, a few whole entire days spent staring at yourself, hungry and thirsty, never looking at your watch or taking a break to go to the bathroom and not dozing off. It's going to seem like a huge waste of time and it takes a big leap of faith to make it work, but eventually you might see your second face.

Making your second face is hard. It takes time and craft skills, and you have to actually get it right and not just slop something together and hope for the best. You'll know when it's right. It might take weeks or months. I know a guy who had to learn to work leather. You can't have someone else do it for you, and if you've never sewed a stitch in your life you'll have to, but by now you'll know if it's working or not.

Then you have to take it out and walk at night. Go where the road takes you. Follow the wind. Listen to the secret voices in the cemeteries and sit under overpasses with the old homeless folk. Don't talk. Watch, and listen. If you practice martial arts in the park that's okay. If you try to learn parkour, that's okay. But go somewhere new every night, and listen and watch instead of talking and being seen. Don't take a phone with you, no radio, no money, no ID, no weapons. Nothing more than a small flashlight and your mask. If people see you're wearing it, they won't bother you. People who spend a lot of time out at night know what it means, and they won't bother you.

Eventually, you'll see your first Flare. Go where it came from. Introduce yourself to whoever else appears, but keep it short. Names, how long you've been out at night, and tell them you haven't found your power yet. They may give you a hard time or dismiss you, but they aren't allowed to keep you from trying. Whatever situation is in front of you, set the wrong things right. Do your best. Your power will appear when you need it, and when it does you will know what it does and how to use it. Not before.

Your second face will give you a shield against the fear, and when your mask is on you you can wrestle with the horrors of the night. The black-eyed children, the backwards walking man, Bloody Mary, shadow people, the madmen and the asylum escapees and the inventors. Your power may seem a paltry thing, but it's not really the power that makes you able to stand when others would flee or fall.

Be brave. Be just, and fear not.


Over time, I learned the others that lived in my city. They called me Seeker, though I didn't pick that name myself. I met Shift, who was small and soft-spoken and polite, but who could do miraculous, impossible things sometimes (and other times could not so much as light a match without striking it on the box.) Staccato's power was that she knew how to fight. At first no one believed this was a power, but one night she challenged five other masks to put her to the test, and not one single blow landed on her. I wasn't there for that, but I knew she was a true mask after she stepped into the shadow with me. Crag had the strength of ten. Breathe would heal from any injury, with wounds sealing up before your eyes. Lighthouse could shine lights, bright enough to blind and enough to find your way in any dark. Squeeze could fit through any opening that air could pass through. Love only ever wore a red bandana across the top of his head, with holes cut for eyes. It was barely a mask at all, but nobody could remember a time that Love wasn't answering the call, with the ability to look at you and know what you wanted. Love had been out longer than anyone, and then one day disappeared and was not seen again. We plant climbing roses for Love, but we do not speak his name. Bone could touch a thing and see its past, Walker could take you on roads no one else could know, Pitch could be both heavy and light, and Cup could put things away in a secret place and draw them out again at need. Most masks do learn to fight, eventually, and some get frighteningly good at at the problems we can resolve with fists, but it's not your fists that make you walk into the dark when you should turn around and run home and throw your mask in the fire and never talk about it again.


One night the signal went up from a neighborhood. I came to find Crag and Walker already waiting. A monster that came in dreams to hurt people was preying on the neighborhood, night after night. The monster hid in nightmares, but with Walker to lead and Seeker to find there was nowhere in this world or any other that it could have hidden. We circled through alleys and dilapidated sheds, up trees and across roofs to crawl through attic windows, but Walker found a path to Dream and we tracked the monster to its lair. Crag wrestled with it like Jacob wrestling with an Angel, and eventually with his hands he broke it. We left Dream through a different way, and came out in a far part of the city a week after we had left.


One night the signal went up from a mansion on the edge of town. Love and Shift met me there, and the man who sent the signal up was waiting by his car, his family in their pajamas waiting inside. They had moved into the house and found it haunted, and if we couldn't drive the ghosts away, they would never sleep a night there again. The ghosts had not hurt them, and I think they couldn't have, but not everything has to be about deadly danger. The sound of sobbing came from their closets at night and they awoke to find a man with hate in his eyes sitting on their chests so they couldn't move. Doors slammed open and shut at all hours, and the family had the wide and staring eyes of people being driven from their sanity.

We agreed to drive the ghosts away if we could, and they thanked us for coming. All that night and until the dawn, we did our best to unravel the haunting as though it were a knot we could untie. An awful man, the kind of monster that only an ordinary man could be, had tormented the people around him and killed a few of them, then himself. His hatred, wherever it came from, could not be exhausted, and they were all forced to replay the scenes of their lives like broken records. We could not touch them or speak to them, but Love could read their hearts and I could find their hidden journals and secret passages and the old bones hidden under the koi pond. And then, an hour before dawn, we saw the ghost of a lovely young woman with features like a china doll, ready to repeat the last moments of her life and die under the knife of her fiancee. It was only an image, a spider could not have hung a web on them. But Shift reached out, and grabbed her spectral wrist, and jerked her through life and death and time and back into the world. She was there, twenty years old and alive as you or me, a hundred years away from her proper time and trembling like a leaf.

Shift could do impossible things, sometimes, and the haunting burned away like dew in the morning. The young woman had no proper place in the world, but we told the family who lived in her home that our price for our help was that they help her, and they did. She lives there with them still, and strong people find it in themselves to make their own place in the world. She hosts a talk radio program now, and she keeps company with the lonely souls who call in every night from midnight to four AM. I have personal knowledge of ten people she has talked down from committing suicide.


One night the signal went up from a park in the center of the city. A groundskeeper was in the grip of a nameless fear, and could barely leave his shed after the power went out suddenly. I think he was wise to trust himself, when he saw shadows moving in the moonlight and there had been no wind. There were things in the secret heart of the park that night, things for which I could not find a name. Pitch leaped from branch to branch like a squirrel, and moments later stood on the ground as immovable as a monolith. The things came for us, but Breath stood against them and could not be killed, and Pitch knew how to use fists and feet. We drove them back with torches, and though we were wounded they fled. We did not defeat the things in the park, but they have not returned, and perhaps they will not.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Local Specialties I, Campaign Update

Because my campaign setting is still so small (there are fewer than 20 known systems), it's still feasible for me to give every named system its own feel. One of the ways I'm doing that is by giving different planets their own local specialty goods, things that are only available from there.  I don't have one for every system yet, but I hope to eventually.  Frankly, I'm having a much easier time coming up with local specialties for TL4 cultures.  It's tough to come up with something for lower-tech societies that can't be trivially produced at higher TLs.

The following are the Local Specialties I have so far.

1. As mentioned in prior posts, the Nyx Cluster makes the best anagathics available, by far.

2. Wolf is the home of Spacekea.  They make prefabricated structures and colonization supplies.  You can get a modular, lightly fortified manor house packed up into thirty tons of cargo space, for example.  It comes complete with everything but food.  They make even larger prefabricated facilities available by special order.  They also make low-maintenance fusion plants and similar supplies.

3. Anumati is the cyberpunk planet.  They make mass quantities of cybernetics (an expensive type of medical supply) and also the best personal entertainment products.  If you travel there personally, the cost to install cybernetics is much less.  They also produce a special cybernetic item, the Gibson Interface.  This is a port in the user's skull that allows them to interface directly with a computer, and enter a VR interface useful for hacking.

4. Inari is a world that is for cultural reasons almost entirely vegetarian. They make fantastic hydroponics equipment, and their biggest export is the Laughing Buddha Modular Hydroponic Farm. It weighs only 20 tons when packed, and when installed it can provide food, purified water, and air for up to 300 people indefinitely. It's expensive, at 100,000 credits, but easy to maintain and incredibly reliable.

5. Towers is a corrupt shit-hole of a world. For that reason, it has produced a brutal signature weapon.

Balrog Laser Pistol: This is a bulky, inaccurate laser weapon preferred by thugs and degenerates all across Towers. It has a range of 50/100, deals 2d4 damage and takes two Type A energy cells. It has a magazine of 12 and is capable of burst fire. Like all energy weapons, it is +1 to hit.  600cr.

Towers is also preparing to start producing a mass-market heavy fighter craft intended to challenge the military supremacy of State technology.

6. Tenebrous is only partially colonized, but they are TL4.  The local product is a crude, extremely unsafe vehicle called a Gravpogo.  The Gravpogo is a single-passenger vehicle that looks something like a cross between a hovercycle and a pogo stick.  A user with no skill can operate a Gravpogo, but it does use the Vehicle/Grav skill if checks are necessary.  

Gravpogo: Speed 1, Armor 1, HP 5.  Alternately, the GM can treat a gravpogo like a piece of worn equipment.  In that case, any hit that reduces the pilot below 10HP disables the gravpogo immediately.  The gravpogo's advantages are thus: It weighs only 125 kilos, and eight of them can be carried in one ton of cargo space.  It can take off and land from essentially anywhere, and is small enough to lean in the corner of a bar.    They can fly to essentially any height that a normal aircraft can reach, although you take your life in your hands if you do so.  They are cheap, at only 1,000 credits apiece.  The user should be advised that the gravpogo has no electronics beyond a utility light welded onto the front as a headlamp.  They don't need a key to start and can be stolen casually.  They do not have map software, GPS, a compass, a speedometer or altimeter.  There is a warning light that flashes when you only have five minutes or so of power left rather than a gauge.

Campaign Update

The PCs have chosen to investigate a floating city.  The city is an ovoid, 60 kilometers across the long axis and 40 kilometers across the short.  There has been no sign of intelligent habitation, but the internal biosphere is active and compatible so far with human life, and automated landing control guided their ship in and opened the airlock doors for them.  So far, they have borrowed a local hovercraft to travel around inside the dome.  It's a huge expanse of water with large islands scattered through it. During their journey to the largest island, they were attacked by bio-engineered armored shark-beasts.  The PCs were unscathed, but the monsters took a few bites out of the hovercraft.  It is now deemed inadvisable for them to attempt to return to the ship without finding a way to ensure with certainty that the hovercraft is not eaten out from under them hundreds of yards away from the shore.  

Rook, the AI henchwoman, is still manning the ship, and is in radio and video contact with the party.  As of right now, the PCs are going to explore the interior of the island.  I have informed the players that they need to begin tracking of grenades, ammunition, power cells, and rations.

Things could get interesting.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Aging & Hegemony, Part II

The following is the aging table I intend to use for this campaign, and probably in the future.

14 or less: Characters this young do not appear on-screen in my campaigns.
17 or less: -1 Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.
18 to 35: No modifiers.  If for some reason a character started younger than 18, remove the above penalties.
36 to 50: -1 Con & Dex.  +1 Intelligence & Wisdom.
51-60: -1 Con, Dex, & Str.  +1 Wisdom & Charisma.
61-70:  -1 Con, Dex, & Str.
71-80: -1 Con, Dex, & Str.
80+: Knock off a point of a randomly-selected attribute every year until one attribute is reduced to zero and they die.

A few notes:
PCs may not select the age they start, out of some kind of bid to get bonuses to mental attributes.  The starting campaign age is defined randomly as in my prior post. Penalties accrue according to biological age, bonuses accrue according to chronological age. Thus, a character who begins taking anagathics at the age of 21 will have all the mental attribute bonuses before they ever suffer any negative aging effects.  All changes after the age of 35 are cumulative. Attributes should probably be capped at 18, unless the GM wants to consider the effects of moderately superhuman mental capabilities.

The preceding are written for use by PCs, who I assume have healthy and active lives rather than sitting around watching TV and eating potato chips, and who access excellent medical care when needed.  The GM is encouraged to do whatever they want with NPCs, who may not age as well.  PCs who attempt to live on planets of lower tech-levels without access to TL4 medical care may suffer more serious problems than attribute penalties in their seventies and eighties.

Rejuvenation Treatment:

The other prong of life extension is the rejuvenation treatment.  This is available at only a handful of clinics in the Nyx Cluster, and the actual details of the treatment are kept completely secret.  The patient is kept under sedation for long periods over the course of a month or two of treatment, and have very little knowledge of what is actually done to them.  

Access to the procedure is equally strictly controlled by the government, the State, and the Academe.  A prospective patient is advised to be in good standing with the powers that be (a bit of status ala the Reputation Economy in Transhuman Tech is advisable!) and to have 4MCr in ready cash.

Any given patient can only undergo rejuvenation treatment once.  This is a matter of the procedure failing rather than unwillingness on the part of the clinic's sponsors.  It simply knocks 40 years off the patient's biological age, removing any accrued penalties and restoring them to the image of youthful health and vigor.  At the time of treatment, the GM should roll 1d6+20.  That is the minimum biological age to which the patient will be reduced to.  There is little point in attempting rejuvenation treatment until one feels the enervating effects of age.

Rejuvenation treatment is completely compatible with anagathics.  A person who starts taking anagathics young and keeps them up throughout the entire course of their life (they have no effect before the patient reaches their early twenties), receives a rejuvenation treatment in their late sixties, and then continues to take angathics...that person could enjoy a very long and healthy life.

Of course, doing so represents an expense beyond the dreams of the typical citizen of the State, and also requires substantial service to hegemonic extraplanetary powers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Aging & Hegemony

The following is how I intend to handle aging, since my campaign appears as though it may span a fair amount of time.

Characters start out with an age of 20+1d4 years.  Their birthday may be whatever they like, or they may be foundlings who know nothing of their origin, but for game purposes everyone's age increments up on the stroke of midnight, December 31st.  For the typical human of the setting, their chronological and biological age is the same.  For the wealthy, it need not be.

If one takes anagathic drugs only made in the Nyx Cluster, one can cheat the sands of time.  It is 400 Credits a month for a supply.  One can take a pill every day or an injection twice a month, the price and effect is the same.  If one takes one's anagathics regularly, one's biological age accrues at only half the rate.  At the end of the year where the drugs are taken correctly, the PC gains one year of chronological age and half a year of biological age.

This can be advantageous, as gains to Wisdom and the like are based on chronological age, whereas the creeping frailty of senescence comes from biological age.

I use a system of lifestyle costs, and the PCs can simply add 400 Credits a month to their lifestyle bill if they take anagathics.  These are, obviously, beyond the means of the everyday person on the street.  They are also obviously something that everyone of substance would wish to have, indeed might be desperate to have.  So, it's not only a way to give the PCs extra bills and keep them greedy, it's part of the in-character explanation for why the Nyx Cluster has so much power and wealth.  Between the widely available anagathic drugs and the fantastically expensive Rejuvenation Clinic, there are a lot of people who want to give them money and stay on their good side.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Power and the Academe

"It is perhaps pertinent to consider the manner of man who has become the new specialist. He lives in a materialistic age, where comparatively small interest is given to absolutes. He is a man of charm, wit, sophistication, but no profundity. His ideals are not abstract. His field of endeavor, if he is a scholar, may be mathematics or one of the physical sciences; but it is a hundred times more likely to be a phase of what loosely are called humanistic studies: history, sociology, comparatives, symbology, esthetics, anthropology, the varieties of experience, penology, education, communication, administration and coercion, not to mention the morass of psychology already trampled by generations of incompetents, and the still unexplored wilderness of psionics.

There are also those who, like the author, ensconce themselves on a thunderous crag of omniscience, and with protestations of humility which are either unconvincing or totally absent, assume the obligation of appraisal, commendation, derogation or denunciation of their contemporaries. Still, by and large it is an easier job than digging a ditch."

-Jack Vance, The Demon Princes.

The State is a byzantine and many-headed organization, with only pretenses toward democracy.  However, it is less under the control of the Nyx Cluster or the other core worlds than is popularly supposed.  In fact, the levers of State power are firmly in the grip of the intellectual elite.  They are known as The Academe.

The Academe is a sort of meta-university, and also a militarized think tank.  The State Navy, in fact, is not entirely distinguishable from the Academe's military sciences division.  All officers are professors or graduate students, and military actions are often styled as research projects, practicums, or lab work.  The following are the divisions of the Academe.  It should be understood that these are literally organized as university departments, with cross-disciplinary students and all the rest.  Mortarboards are out of fashion, in that they are not compatible with vacc suit helmets.  As such, cloaks, capes, half-capes, or mantles with appropriate coloration or decoration are used.

The College Nephilim

This is school for psychics.  It is effectively the same as The Black House, although part of the Nephilim's staff are engaged in poaching psychics from every world that will tolerate them.  The color of the Nephilim is a shimmering blue-green.  They are entitled to a gold-embroidered symbol for each discipline in which they have Mastered the third-level power.

The College Athena

The Athenians are the students of war.  The most visible and celebrated component of this college is the department of space warfare, but they are enthusiastic defenders of every martial field, from judo to small-unit tactics to orbital bombardment.  The color of the Athenians is Void, a fabric so black that it reflects no light whatsoever.  Those who have received primary credit for published, peer-reviewed work of original research are entitled to wear a silver skull as a brooch and/or embellishment on a personal sidearm of their choice.  

The College Weyland

This is the college of design and engineering.  All Weyland students and staff wear a Metatool with insignia covering their level of attainment, and their color is a red-bronze.  Typical engineering tasks are, of course, handled adequately well by planetary colleges and technical schools.  The Weylands specialize in astrotechnology and megascale engineering.

The College Gaia

Fields of study in this college include life sciences as they are generally understood, in addition to xenobiology and terraforming.  The last two are considered the hot topics.  The colors of the Gaians are dark green, with a double-helix trim for those who have published original research.

The College Apollo

This is the medical sciences division.  It is the smallest of the colleges, as medical training is considered adequately provided by planetary medical schools.  However, it does include specialized divisions of parasitology and epidemiology, which are considered to be of special concern for spacefaring civilizations.  The Apollonian color is white, with a crimson Caduceus for the professors.  Apollonians are never without their bioscanners, which are always white with a crimson caduceus.  They will also typically carry a medical kit if they are on-duty.

The College Mnemosyne

This school is often criticized as a catch-all or miscellania, but its original purpose was to house sciences that were largely done on paper rather than with heavy equipment.  The various departments can no longer be separated into a more sensible organization because none of them will tolerate being the ones kicked out.  The major departments include philosophy, mathematics, information and game theory, (human) sociology and psychology, (human-created) cyberpsychology, computer sciences, history, (human) linguistics and anthropology, history, literature, communications, political science, et cetera.  The color of the Mnemosynes is purple, with a variety of seals for various accomplishments and areas of study, which they jealously squabble over.  Do not mistake this college for harmless academics, they have produced a number of highly skilled spies and assassins, and their graduate students and professors dominate the political scene.

The College Discordia

This is the school of finance, management, accounting, etc.  The hottest field in this college is the Weaponized Economic Studies department.  The color of this college is, obviously, Gold.  This college is absurdly well-funded, and indeed produces much of the support for the Academe as a whole.

The College Echidna

This covers all of the Xenostudies.  Xenolinguistics, theories of political and social science as they apply to alien sapients, histories of alien species, etc.  Often cross-disciplinary.  The color of this college is dark grey, and may be decorated with a black icon for each alien species for which they have a peer-reviewed publishing credit.

The Office of Promethean Studies

Every successful academic career must take at least a taste of that most ambrosial of all pursuits...field-work.  No published paper, wine-heavy dinner party, or affair with a starry-eyed protege can be considered complete without a few exciting anecdotes from field-work with the Promethean office.  This office conducts all of the State's Prometheus Projects, the massive public-works and education initiatives designed to increase the tech level of an entire inhabited world.  Those members of the Academe who have successfully contributed to the Promethean Studies division are entitled to a flame-red trim about their cape.

As a note in generating NPCs: Any member of the Academe proper (as opposed to support staff) will be at least level 2.  People gain education and experience in planetary organizations, and then apply to the Academe.  This doesn't entirely apply to Psychics at the Black House, for whom there is often no undegraduate program available, and for whom the State is voracious.  Persons with Master's degrees or Doctorates will almost always be fifth level or higher.  The tweed-clad professor from the Athenian college has likely killed many men, and that monosword he carries is probably not for decoration.  The highest-ranking officials in the State and many planetary governments are usually also staff or students in the Academe.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

History, Starships, & Campaign Update

First Generation

As I've mentioned before, the setting in my campaign is much more low-rent.  TL5 equipment is practically impossible to manufacture, even the toolkits to work on or repair pre-Scream technology are difficult to obtain.  I think this works out pretty well for an introductory game, and things will become gradually more available as in-game time passes.  More on this later.

The Nyx Cluster only rediscovered the technology to build Spike Drives a little over fifty years ago.  In that time, they've had to rediscover a great deal that would have been taken for granted by Mandate-era humanity.  Starships are divided into three "generations," which are subdivisions within TL4.

1st Generation ships were crude, the first attempts by the Nyx government to build something that could let them make contact.  What you see in this generation is very little in the way of space weaponry, and nothing larger than a small frigate.  Everything has Atmospheric Capability by necessity.  There aren't really much in the way of space stations outside of the Cluster itself, and so if you want to go somewhere you need to be able to land.  I also stuck to fairly "simple" seeming components installed in the hulls, and in most cases didn't use all the mass and power that should have been available.  


This was the first-generation model of exploration frigate.  These are non-configurable vessels.  All modules are integral, there is no "free" mass or power to expand with.
  • Hermes, 1st-Generation Non-Militarized Frigate
  • Speed 3, Armor 2, HP 20, Crew 1/6, 6 AC.
  • Atmospheric Configuration, Fuel Bunkers, Extended Stores, Ship's Locker, 100 Tons Cargo Space

It has fuel bunkers, so it can jump one system out and then one back. No further. It has extended stores so it can spend a fair amount of time wherever it goes. It can land on planets and carry 100 tons of cargo space, and the ship's locker gives the crew access to exploration and survival equipment. Frankly, this is pretty sad as starships go.

But, 100 tons of cargo space is enough, with a few runs, to start building refueling stations.  The integral sensor equipment that all starships have is enough to take a look at planets you find, and start examining the civilizations that may be present.  And the atmospheric configuration is enough to let you land somewhere, surreptitiously, and poke around a bit.  This would have been an exciting and adventurous time, where the starship crews were the very best of the best, operating alone and without support simply because there might only be a handful of ships in existence, at first.

The Nyx government spied on a lot of civilizations before it started making formal contact.  It studied them thoroughly, and in star systems where the technology to detect their activities didn't exist, built a few space facilities (like refueling stations) on the outskirts of their system.

State Colonization

During this time the structure for the State government was hammered out, and the Reef colonized.  The Reef is a system with no major orbital bodies on the scale of planets.  Nothing larger than a small moon, but lots of them, and many, many asteroids.  Fifty years later, it's a thriving system civilization of its own, and is completely self-sustaining at TL4.  The Nyx government also took possession of a ringworld in the neighboring uninhabited system of Abaddon.  Not so huge as Niven's titular one, but a Culture-style orbital.  There wasn't any technology there, just many, many earthlike planets' worth of wilderness on a ring 3 million kilometers in diameter, which has an earthlike orbit and spins to produce a day/night cycle and 1G of centripetal force.

There was an ancient psi-academy there which still contained some records of how psi-training was conducted.  The Nyx government has spent the last fifty years in a program to develop and train new generations of psychics, and allow them to control increasingly higher levels of psychic abilities.  They have succeeded so far, and it is now possible to train Psychics to use powers up to Level 6 without them burning their brains out.  The Psi-Academy is known as The Black House.  While some planetary peoples maintained or redeveloped cultural traditions sufficient to train psychics in powers up to Level 3, the Black House is the only place to go if you want to continue advancing.  There are supposedly Secret Masters among the faculty there, who know Level 7 or even higher powers, but their identities are kept obscure.  There are approximately 500 students at the Black House at any given time, and the State provides free room, board, and education to any psychic in the State who wishes to learn.


The first civilizations that the State contacted were Wolf, Anumati, and Corsica.  Wolf and Anumati were TL3 at the time of contact, Corsica was TL2.  Wolf has a sort of Nordic/Scandinavian culture, and is a slightly chilly planet.  Notable features are that they have an excellent capacity for modular heavy industry.  They produce "space ikea" goods that can be transported and installed easily.  Anumati is Cyberpunk Bollywood.  It's heavily influenced by Indian culture, at least aesthetically, and is now able to produce and install cybernetic and biotechnology better than any other civilization.  Corsica was the third, and was chosen for cultural rather than technological factors.  The Corsicans are a little French-flavored, and they took a central role in further diplomatic and governmental functions.  Despite their relative lack of technology, they were able to become very influential and established most of the intellectual traditions of the burgeoning State.

These civilizations kept in regular contact and cultural exchange with Spike-capable shuttles for at least a decade before official contact with other civilizations occurred.  Of course, the State's hand was forced by independent merchants who gained access to Spike-capable vessels and began smuggling goods back and forth through the official embargo.  Officially, the first-generation craft are not modular and can't be customized.  But if you take a first-generation shuttle...

  • Huginn, 1st-Generation Shuttle
  • Speed 3, Armor 0, 15HP, 1/20 Crew, 9 AC.
  • Extended Life Support, Extended Stores, Atmospheric Configuration

...and are willing to rip out half of the crew quarters and simply throw out the extended stores, you can fit in a couple tons of cargo space. Provided that you can find hydrogen for the trip back, you can make a trade run with a ship like this.  You just need to make sure that the cargo is valuable enough to justify it.  Outgoing cargo is easy, because gold and gemstones are cheap in TL4 cultures.  If you buy fancy compads on Anumati, they probably have gold, silver, and platinum cases and jewels for buttons.  The question is what you bring back to make it worth your while.

Prometheus Projects

Prometheus Projects in Stars Without Number are how you uplift a civilization from one TL to the next. They are described in the Suns of Gold book, and work roughly as follows.  You have to establish a presence on the planet; a small office building is supposed to be sufficient, but one of the themes of my campaign is that many things are harder than they "should" be.  I'd probably require a few satellite offices as the techniques are not perfected.  You then spend a certain amount of money per year, which represents the cost of importing experts and equipment.  This raises 10,000 people in the first year to the next higher Tech Level.  If you maintain the project, then for the same cost you raise twice as many people in each subsequent year.  10k, 20k, 40k, 80k, 160k, 320k, 640k, 1.3M, 2.6M, 5.2M, 10.4M, 20.8M, 41.6M, 83.2M, 166M, 332M, 664M, 1.3B, etc.  As you can see, it takes a number of years to get anywhere if you're starting with a large planetary population.  And, at first, the Nyx Cluster didn't have the expertise to undertake the Projects efficiently or effectively.  At this point in the campaign's development, I would allow a by-the-book progression and cost, although the less-sophisticated knowledge of sociology and so forth means it would require slightly more on-planet facilities, the cost of which is fortunately fairly marginal.

As of right now, Anumati and Wolf are almost TL4, and will be within the next year or two of the campaign.  They were the pilot programs for the whole idea, and so their uplift was very inefficient.  Most of the real experts on Prometheus projects are people who worked on those worlds from the beginning.

2nd Generation

2nd Generation starships are a marked improvement.  They still aren't modular, but a few more hull templates opened up.  You start seeing better weapons, and more extensive fittings and modules.  The 2nd-generation shuttle is very close to strictly better than the first-generation one:
  • Muninn, 2nd-Generation Shuttle
  • Speed 3, Armor 0, 15HP, 1/20 Crew, 9 AC.
  • Extended Life Support, Fuel Bunkers, Spike Drive 2, 2 tons cargo space, atmospheric configuration.
It's traded out the extended stores, which it does not really need for trips to anywhere even half-civilized, and now includes faster engines, integral cargo space, and the fuel to make two jumps. This is a versatile ship that can reasonably be used for trading of high-value goods or paid passenger transport. A lot of small-time private spacefarers tried to make a go of it with nothing but a Muninn-class shuttle, and presumably some of them made it.

At this generation, you start seeing more weapons, and more ships equipped with slightly more complex technology.  More fuel scoops instead of just fuel bunkers, on those vessels large enough to support it, and more advanced spike drives.  Fighters of this generation and later no longer have atmospheric capability, as they're intended for systems with space stations that can launch them.

By the end of the second generation, every system that is now in the State had knowledge of the civilizations that were coming from the stars, even if there wasn't formal diplomatic contact.  However, the State attempted to establish that quickly.  It was during this time that the State started loosening the restrictions on private ownership of space vessels.  By the end of it, used starships could be purchased at government auction regularly, and there was a thriving secondary market in parts and vessels.  The second generation is loosely defined as from approximately forty years before the start of the campaign to around ten years before the start of the campaign.

3rd Generation

The third generation started around ten years ago.  There are actual private starship companies that will sell non-militarized hulls to private citizens.  The newest ships are modular - they come with free space and power and can be customized like the ones in the book.  I've pretty much stopped penalizing vessels for being low-tech, so everything has the space and power it should have according to the book.  1st and 2nd generation vessels are cheap when bought used; if the PCs wanted to buy them I'd apply a discount to whatever the price should be.  Of course, they probably have various other penalties, like perhaps a -1 to computer rolls for scanning and detection unless they get refit.

The third generation also includes larger, cruiser-sized hulls, although none of those are in private hands yet.  Actual shooting wars in space between human civilizations are essentially nonexistent at this point, and shots fired in anger are usually against small-time pirates.  But being able to threaten such, or defend against an incursion from unknown outsiders, makes it worth it to keep some war vessels around.

The following is one of the big prides of the Nyx navy:
  • Inanna, 3rd Generation Colonization Vessel
  • Speed 1, Armor 10, HP 50, Crew 50/3000, 7 AC.
  • Hydroponics, Advanced Nav Computer, Cargo Lighter, Drop Pod, Fighter Bay (Usually carries a shuttle), Spike Drive 3, Extended Med Bay, Fuel Bunkers x2, Fuel Scoops, Ship's Locker, Workshops, Cold Sleep Pods, 3000 tons cargo space.
This was based on the colony ship in Scavenger Fleets.  It's substantially less good than that, since those ships are advanced well beyond the baseline and I didn't want that kind of technology to be available yet.  There aren't a lot of ships like this in existence, there are maybe 20 cruisers period in the entire State.  A handful of Inanna-class vessels are used for ongoing colonization efforts in places like Tenebrous.  They can drop off close to 3,000 people per trip, with one ton of starter supplies per colonist.  The most desirable colonists are healthy, physically active couples with no young children and enough training and education to contribute in a variety of ways.  If they run at full tilt and have sufficient logistical support, three Inanna-class vessels can put close to 18,000 people per month down on Tenebrous, the current colonization project.  Construction has started on another batch of 20 of these vessels, but it won't be complete for another two years.

If the campaign goes on for five or ten in-game years, the State might start being able to produce more advanced models that approach Scavenger Fleets ships and exceed what is in the SWN core.  

At this point, any TL4 gear can be purchased and the State is well on its way to establishing hegemony over all of the systems listed on the wiki.  There are a few holdouts like Towers and The Golden Empire, but everyone else is falling into line more or less as planned.  The PCs have the option to explore past the rim and take big risks, or stay relatively close to the State and play things safer in return for lower rates of return.

Campaign Update

So far, the PCs have made only one inter-system trip.  They drilled from Tenebrous (the bleeding edge of the frontier) out to an unexplored system called Oneiros Beta.  This is a binary system of two small red stars, which rip at each other's gaseous envelopes and have turned the inner part of the system into a big dull-red nebula.  It causes a great deal of interference with any attempts to scan the place, and the stars are dim so that the system's worlds tend to be very cold.

The PCs have explored an ancient alien structure on a wintery world with enough volcanic activity to have liquid water in places.  They looked through the lower levels and fought a few security robots, but found very little valuable loot.  They did find that the facility had a geothermal stack generator in the basement, and they could probably get it running with some work.  They haven't reached the upper levels yet, due to large vault doors that they don't know how to open.

They temporarily gave up on that to refuel (the nebula is full of hydrogen, and is very easy to run fuel scoops in.)  While doing this, they detected a huge spike of a magnetic field, clearly the signature of some technological artifact.  They chased it down and found an uninhabited asteroid, apparently made by the same aliens as the earlier complex.  It appears to be a refueling base, as the asteroid itself has a fuel scoop (like a Bussard Ramscoop.)  While it is not entirely automated, the fuel scoop engages to gather fuel and the onboard fusion core is still sort-of running.  Maintenance on the base has been nonexistent, though, and the systems are slowly failing.  As mentioned in last entry, recovery of the fusion core and its refurbishment will probably bring the PCs 50,000 credits or more.  That's good for ten thousand XP, and probably a fairly substantial chunk of new personal equipment.  They've found a fair amount of salvage, too, and are mostly sitting pretty.  

The problems with the asteroid base, other than the killer robots that occasionally burst forth to harass them, is that there is no atmosphere.  Or rather, there's helium (a noble gas, so it won't corrode anything, natch) at about 20% of normal earth pressure.  They can't work there without vacc suits, which slows everything down.  If they dismantle the fusion core, the gravity will fail (making things easier) but so will the airlocks (meaning they'll have to cut them out and expose the station to hard vacuum.)  And since the dismantling and transport of the fusion core represents about 125 man-hours of work and their vacc suits need occasional recharging, this will probably represent the better part of a week.  

They have most recently been attacked by a swarm of six maintenance beetles, which have very little combat ability individually but which I expect to whittle the PCs down some.

The aliens that constructed these facilities were a physically large snail or slug-like species.  They had cumbersome bodies that required a lot of moisture to survive, and their hands and fingers were not very dexterous.  For those reasons, the PCs have found the facilities to have a lot of provisions made to keep the inhabitants soaking in tubs of heated water and lots of robotic equipment to compensate for the creators' lack of agility.