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 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.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Setting, Loot, and Trade

The above is the starmap of The State, the federation of star systems which forms the backdrop for the campaign.  I don't yet know how much time the PCs will spend inside the bounds of the State, rather than scrabbling around out past the rim, but both of those are options!

I've rendered this hexmap using the free version of Hexographer.  I recommend that software highly, and use it for all of my campaigns that will include hex crawling.  The results it produces aren't necessarily beautiful, but it's quick and intuitive to use, and it produces a usable hexmap suitable for gaming.  I care about that much more than I care about fractally generated fjords.

The Setting

The background setting of my campaign is a hegemonic federation of star systems known as The State.  The central administration of the federation is the Nyx Cluster, the system represented by the white sun symbol in the center.  Its critics accuse it of usurping the sovereignty of previously self-governed systems, and they are not entirely wrong.

But we're zooming in too close.  For those of you who are familiar with Stars Without Number, I am running an even more low-rent version of the default setting.  For those of you who are not, the following is an overview:  Once upon a time, over a thousand years ago, the Terran Mandate ruled uncountable thousands of star systems.  They started out using only Spike Drives, a dangerous and somewhat unreliable way of traveling faster than light by shortcutting through metadimensional space.  A trip between systems might take a week, but the drives weren't prohibitively expensive.

They had technology beyond dreaming, and kept the outer colonies under their thumb by refusing to allow them tech that could be maintained without the support of the core worlds.  Eventually, they evolved from the dangerous but independent Spike Drives to using Jump Gates.  Jump Gates required teams of psychics to operate, but could hurl a ship of enormous size across scores of light years in an instant. Centuries passed.

Then the Scream happened.  No one knows the nature of the disaster, but almost every psychic in the Mandate either died instantly or (much less likely) went irrevocably insane.  This destroyed the Mandate almost overnight, as the network of Jumpgates were inoperable.  New psychics were born, but without trained mentor psychics to teach them, they could not control their powers.  The Silence reigned for a thousand years, and the majority of human settlements died out or descended into savagery and chaos.  Whole planets starved to death, unable to even send word to their neighbors.

Time passed, and eventually some worlds rebuilt enough of their technological base and capacity for theoretical sciences to rebuild the ancient, disused Spike Drives.  They are nowhere near being able to recreate Mandate-era technology, but it's enough to explore their neighbors and recontact any survivors.

In my campaign, the Nyx Cluster was by far the first system in its neighborhood to rediscover and deploy the Spike Drive.  They used their advantages to gain undue influence over their neighbors, and created the hegemonic State.  The technological specialty of Nyx is medical science and biotechnology, and they have made extensive use of anti-aging drugs and rejuvenation treatments in bribing and attempting to gain control of the leadership of less advanced planets.

I like the idea of being able to place non-specific rewards in the weird space dungeons my PCs are exploring.  Not everything they find should be expensive gear or ancient and impossibly advanced technological wonders.  So, I've instituted the idea of "salvage."

Salvage is random space junk that is more valuable than scrap and can be sold for a defined rate at any Tech Level 3 or 4 marketplace.  It's a game mechanical construct purely of my own invention, and doesn't hook into Stars Without Number's other trade subsystems.

Salvage is simple: A given lot of salvage weighs so many tons.  When you return from space to sell it, you can get 1d4x100 credits per ton of salvage.  If there are different "lots," like ten tons of spare starship parts and twenty tons of recovered alien industrial machinery, I'll roll separately for each lot.  This is a bit of a callback to recovering silver and gold pieces in D&D.  It was heavy enough that it wasn't worth moving if you had better options, but it would keep you going until you got lucky and rolled a few pieces of jewelry.

It also gives a direct incentive not to completely trick out your ship.  When one buys a ship hull, it is bare bones: Speed, armor, crew quarters, hull points, and a certain amount of Mass and Power.  Adding in subsystems, which you need to do anything interesting, takes up free Mass and Power.  All unused Mass is turned into cargo space.

If you fill up your whole ship with subsystems, you can't make money because you can't haul back the loot.  The PCs' current vessel has 100 tons of free cargo space, which is enough for a pretty good haul, but not even close to infinite.

If the PCs just have a bunch of Salvage, I don't want to waste time RPing it out.  Everything in a PBP game eats time, and so I'd rather skip ahead to more interesting activities than haggling with the local dirtsider junk merchant.  Other recovered loot seems to require an individual, roleplayed-out process of sale.  If the PCs recovered some items of functioning Terran Mandate-era technology (like a black hole gun or a box of AI Matrix Cores) or with a similar combination of value, rarity, dangerousness, and potential illegality, they would need to be pretty specific about how they wanted to go about selling it, and we would quite likely need to RP out negotiations.

In between that, though, is Trade.

Trade uses the subsystem in the Suns of Gold book for Stars Without Number.  I approve of this tome on the basis that it includes more gadgetry and a lot of other useful materials, including the subsystem I'm talking about here.

When the PCs go to a planet to sell something, they make a 3d6 roll modified by their own business competence, and the inherent supply and demand factors of that world.  A primitive world trying to tool up will place a high value on tools useful for manufacturing.  A wealthy, decadent world might pay high prices for exotic drugs and luxurious textiles.  So, you should pick a world that will pay a good price for your cargo!  This roll is looked up on a table, which gives a modifier to the base price.  It's pretty simple, and sufficient to both throw some curveballs at the PCs and to reward characters showing some basic forethought about where they want to sell twenty tons of space tuna or a shipping container full of AK-47s.  I love the fact that the author has absolutely put some thought into the fact that space traders encountering a primitive world will have a use for bags of synthetic jewels, cheap rifles, and nuclear weapons.  Those are all things whose entries specify their usefulness in opening up new markets.  "Find a world technologically equivalent to 18th-century France, nuke Versailles, and declare yourself God-King" is a supported play style. The only thing I regret about this is that I'm running it rather than playing it.

Possibly the most important part of these rules, though, is the Trouble Tables.  The rules assume that PCs are going off into largely uncharted territory and interacting with the very cutting edge of trade routes.  There is always a chance (up to a 40% chance!) that the deal goes bad, for either impersonal reasons or the malice of the locals.

The way this will work in my campaign is very slightly different.  Within the bounds of the State (see that map above?  You should have known we were going to talk about that again) chances for Trouble are minimized, but all value adjustments for trade goods are pushed toward 0%.  This means it's much harder to find a really low purchase price or a really high selling price, and things are generally more stable.  I assume that there is more or less normal trade going on in almost all the worlds absorbed into the State.

However, you will notice that the hexes outside the State are empty.  There are systems there!  They have just not yet been absorbed. They may be known to some, but the navigational information to get there safely isn't widely disseminated, and there likely isn't official diplomatic contact.  If you want to go there, you can get the full-blown supply and demand modifiers, and also full-blown trouble.  And also, if you find someplace completely uncontacted, without Spike Drives of their own, first crack at really exploiting the hell out of them.

Current Campaign Events
The characters have finally found their first item of really valuable loot.  In addition to some decent salvage, they've found an old fusion core in an abandoned alien asteroid base.  It's equivalent to the Black Box fusion core in the Suns of Gold book, and if they spend a week or two refurbishing it it will be worth a base price of 50,000 credits.  We'll modify that with the business stuff in the trade subsystems, and the PCs will get their first big chunk of disposable money and XP gains.

I am really excited to see what they do once they have a couple hundred thousand credits to throw around.