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.

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