Sunday, August 16, 2015

How I Generate Systems, Part II: Fleshing Out Betelgeuse Q.

Now it's time to finish this place up and make it playable. Our final results will be down at the bottom of the post. Again, this is going to be pretty long!

Going in no particular order:

Orbital VII, The Refueling Station deserves stats and numbers and so forth. We're going to build it as a Bannerjee Model 12 (Mandate Archive: Bannerjee Construction Solutions.) I'm going to go ahead and say it's a human operation, in order to give the PCs a place in the system where they can comfortably take a break and so forth. It's not going to have a whole lot of a market, exactly, but enough to move a ton of goods here and there, and resupply ships that are passing through. I think there will be some very small human colonies on the moons around Orbital V (1d6-1=4), but generally not big enough to be points of interest themselves. This is growing beyond just being a "refueling station," but I'm okay with that. We do need some NPCs here, although the human population isn't very large. So let's throw a few out. Let's say one leader type who is a warrior. One criminal contact who is an expert. One humanitarian type who is there to appeal to the PCs' better natures. I think there's room for one alien, as well, but I'm going to leave that blank. Figure out what alien civs are in your campaign, and put one of their agents on it. Remember the secret to making good NPCs! Every NPC should either have something they need from the PCs or something the PCs need from them. Preferably both, preferably in conflict with other NPCs.

Orbital V, Rocky Core Gas Giant: As I established while fleshing out the refueling station, there are four moons here with at least some inhabitation. I don't need to figure them out right now, because they aren't points of interest. None of them will have more than a few thousand people or a tech base of higher than TL4, because the whole point is they're under the thumb of the refueling station. I'm going to make a few rolls about the "Colonies" here. I guess I'm just creating a point of interest out of whole cloth, but you get to do that when you're the GM! Okay, it's a roughly earth-sized moon. Now we switch over to SWN core, in the world tags chapter. Page 86. Atmosphere is breathable, it's temperate, but has no native biosphere. So, all the plant and animal life is stuff they brought with them. Fifty thousand people. TL2: 19th century technology. Feral World (!!!). So we know a few things about this place, now. Try to interpret that on your own, and then see below to see how I interpret it.

Military Space Station: Exactly how heavily armed this thing is is going to depend on your individual campaign. Here is what I would say. It can deploy up to 20 fighter craft at once, and has onboard facilities to repair and even put out a new one every now and again. The craft are automated attack craft. Smarter than a normal automated guard robot, but not by a lot. Definitely not a true AI. Although the space station might be. It's hard to say, it doesn't seem chatty. It also has a couple frigate-sized automated craft that it can use to retrieve wrecked fighters, or ships that the fighters wrecked, in order to extract spare parts. They wouldn't be heavily armed. It may not deploy all of its fighters at once, either. That way it can avoid feints.

The Science World I finally figured out. What I noticed, looking over this star system, is that I had lots of forested worlds, lots of places with different atmospheres, but still with life. Why is that? What story does that tell? So, I think the science world was dedicated to terraforming technology. And the easiest way to terraform a world, theoretically, is to design life-forms to do it for you. That makes perfect sense and could never go wrong in any way! So, this moon contained a complex of sleek and futuristic laboratories for examining xenoflora and xenofauna from a hundred worlds. They were studied, their genes mapped, and re-engineered into forms that would allow them to be the ultimate invasive species. You drop a few tons of them off on a world, and they go crazy tearing up the local ecosystem, changing things to better suit...whatever. And you don't want any pesky native life managing to exterminate them, so they need to have substantial natural defenses. Or be stealthy. or both. It's also possible they might have accidentally created some biological terror weapons. Ooops! In any event, the forest worlds here are all the results of different strains of atmosphere-modifying tree colonies, adapted to change a planet's gas mixture in the same way. The science world itself is overrun by horrifying bioengineered monsters. The fun thing is, they are the treasure. If you can catch them and put them in captivity, you could in fact use them to terraform worlds over the course of a few generations. It might be kind of tricky to get rid of them when you're done, is all.

The Gaian World and its ruins basically write itself once I know what's going on.

The Forest World is also pretty obvious. It used to have its own biosphere, which I will leave as an exercise to the individual GM how to figure out. It was used as a testing ground for forests intended to terraform planets into having an earth-normal atmosphere.

Our last big project is the Moon Prison. This is where we need Dead Names, because I'm not saying it was aliens...but it was aliens.

Now, we know something of what we're going to end up with. It's a prison planet inside a moon. I would say this is probably larger than a typical "dungeon" because it's a prison world, and not just ruins of a prison. It may be different in your campaign, though! Maybe you want bite-sized dungeons set up for just a session or two, one on each planet in a system. That's okay, too. In any event, we're going to start rolling up a species in Dead Names. Now, are they going to be the prison guards? Or the prisoners? I'm not sure yet. We won't know until we go on. I personally like the idea of diverging into Silent Legions and making what they are imprisoning be some high-supernatural awfulness, but we'll see where it takes us.

The first step for an aliens species is to determine their Madness. What makes them different and incomprehensible? Their Madness is Beauty: "All life is directed toward the creation of beauty in form, action, and meaning." At first I'm tempted to reroll that, but what the hell. Let's go with it, see where it takes us. Their madness intensity is Triggered: It becomes an overwhelmingly strong reaction in the face of some specific stimulus. Its motivation is Intrinsic, it is a consequence of their basic nature. These are all tables in Dead Names, by the way.

I think I'm going to make them Extraterrestrials, which means they are just basic aliens, rather than being synthetic life created by someone else, transhumans, or metadimensional beings. Their original purpose in coming here was as a scholarly conclave. Huh. What if this species didn't build the prison? What if they came to study it, and then either became trapped, or found themselves obligated to become the new jailers and contain whatever horror was inside? I came up with curious researchers into ancient eras of this world. Yeah, that could go in pretty much any direction.

Now let's figure out their shape and appearance. Double 18s. Generally humanoid, no especially pronounced motif. We'll keep going on to further tables and see what suggests itself to us. In the first set of tables, I roll 5, 1, 1, 1. So, they've got a sort of a beetle-like aspect, but have humanlike teeth and fingers, and walk upright. Umm. I'm not sure how horrifying these guys are going to be. Let's keep rolling. I decide I want to know what their skin is like, and what they sound like when they talk. They have soft skin like a human (again) and have rasping voices. So, how exactly are they beetle-like, I wonder? They prefer hot, sandy deserts and smell like cinnamon. I'm going to go ahead and say that they have a sort of wing-like carapace on their back, like a beetle. I haven't decided if they can fly or not yet. Might as well say they have antenna, too. So we can note that they have a superhuman sense of smell, I suppose. I am going to roll for their aesthetics, since their sense of beauty is so important. They were colored mists for clothing (maybe controlled with a sort of magnetic or force field? Interesting), feed on energy (evolved to be partially solar powered? Maybe their wing-carapaces are like solar cells?), and their aesthetics involves a lot of flowing lines and circles.

I'm going to just roll on the table for their name. They're known as the Old Kings. Suggests they were the dominant life-form wherever they were from, I suppose.

Dead Names includes a method for figuring out, in general, the history of an alien race. Let's take a crack at it for the Old Kings. I don't want to roll out their whole backstory (although you might, if you want to make them an ongoing faction in your campaign), so we'll just see how they got into this particular mess. You do this by figuring out what obstacle they were trying to overcome, how they overcame it, and how that decision planted the seed of ruin for the next crisis. If you do this for multiple eras, they lead into each other to create tragic dramas, hopefully eventually ending on the shores of lost Carcosa or similar.

1d20;1d10 → [10] = (10)
1d20;1d10 → [8] = (8)
1d20;1d10 → [19] = (19)
1d20;1d10 → [8] = (8)

They were (obstacle to overcome) relying on ancient infrastructure that wore out. They overcame this by exploring, attempting to find a solution elsewhere. However, the seed of ruin was a desire to know maddening truths of reality, which festered due to the machinations of an outside foe.

Okay, now I've got it. They require an energy source unique to their original sun, which was becoming old and entering a new phase. They came here to this place searching for a way to survive, something to save their dying race. However, they have been slowly twisted by the prisoner, which is offering them forbidden knowledge if they will free it. I think I'll end up with a variation on that.

Now, let's roll on their culture. I haven't actually decided how many of them there are. Their name suggests they might have long lifespans, though, so even if they've been here a long time they might not have population problems exactly. They have ideological rule by the faction leaders (sensible enough), and are...actually friendly towards outsiders. I guess they aren't actually mustache-twirling villains (antenna-twirling villains?), they're just doing what they need to do to survive. 

Cultural values: They value beauty and grace. It is considered terrible for them to not be productive, and laziness is a source of immense shame. They have faith-based groupings instead of families (maybe like a prayer-group, or maybe something like a ka-tet, people that are just chosen to be together?), and their temperament is relentlessly curious. So, they will get up in the PCs' grill about stuff. If the GM is feeling puckish, asking provocative questions in-character about the PCs beliefs or history might prove interesting. It's basically a way of simultaneously roleplaying an alien species and getting the players to think about how their character thinks of themselves. Don't overdo it, but have some fun.

To Be Continued: In our next and final chapter, we figure out what's going on with the Old Kings and the prisoner. This is going to involve Silent Legions!

Close to Final Results: Betelgeuse Q

White Dwarf Star: Collapsed dwarf stars that have cast off their outer layers as a surrounding planetary nebula, leaving only the very small, dim ball of cooling plasma at their center. Worlds around them are often rather cold, and even in daylight the stars still shine around it and the sky is very dark.

Orbital I: Normal Gravity Forest World, Oxygen Atmosphere. Has a Moon Prison. The prison has a gaian interior with a nitrogen atmosphere. The outside is rocky and has no atmosphere to speak of. There are still aliens in here

Orbital II: Low-G Gaian World, CO2 atmosphere. Ruined Cities. No intelligent life. I'm going to go ahead and say that the population here was human. They were poisoned when invasive trees from the bio-lab were released into their ecology (by whom? for what purpose?) and turned the planet's atmosphere poisonous. They couldn't react quickly enough to survive. The planet was on the cool side of temperate (it's probably warmer now due to the greenhouse effect) with a native biosphere immiscible with human life. Well, I guess they tried to fix that. At its height, it had 80,000 inhabitants. They had TL4 technology, so it's sort of an open question why they couldn't deal with the invasive plants. In a literal sense, if they spread rapidly and were intentionally seeded across wide areas of the planet, it might have been hard to impossible to drive them off. However, they might have had time to build arcologies or something. Maybe they were resource poor, maybe infighting and civil war collapsed their society? Therefore, one of the world tags is going to be Civil War. Pick the second one for your campaign, just in case your PCs decide to go down there in their vacc suits and hunt for surviving treasures. Finding long-abandoned computer banks and going back through them to figure out the last days of these people, who died fighting each other while they choked on their planet's changed atmosphere, might be kind of depressing.

Orbital III: Liquid Water Core, High Gravity Gas Giant with Lots of Moons. One of them is full of abandoned and highly dangerous scientific facilities! There is also a forest world moon with an oxygen atmosphere and another forest world moon with a nitrogen atmosphere. Examination by anyone with an eye for botany will let the adventurers discover that the forests here, and on Orbital I and II, are all basically the same species of trees. They've just been genetically modified to change the gas mixture of their host planet in different ways. None of them are natives, and it goes without saying that they've turned the worlds toxic to whatever the original native life used to be. The laboratory facilities, which went on for miles and miles, are now absolutely overrun with crazed bio-engineered horrors of every type. Open up the old D&D monster manuals, and just pick some crazy shit out. The thing is, though, they actually have the purpose of being terraforming engines. Most of them have certain genetic "keyholes" built in, so that if you know what to look for you can easily design a virus that will wipe out that specific species. So it's easy to clean up when you're done! This information is hidden in whatever is left of the computer banks. The PCs might find that out, and what these things are for, if they can avoid having their heads ripped off.

It is probably fairly obvious by now that QVX-507 was put in place after this lab collapsed, because the lifeforms down there are tremendously dangerous and are therefore under quarantine.

Just as a sample way of running the forests, I might say that they aren't really trees, they just look like them. They're a colony organism that tends to kind of look like trees. You want to get a mass of them weighing twenty tons or so, including the dirt they're in, and plant that wherever. They tolerate a wide variety of temperatures, elevations, light levels, humidity ranges, and soil types. Once you get that initial population planted, they'll expand outward rapidly,  and do an effective job of strangling native life. Think lots of vines and roots crawling outward as quickly as a meter a day, and growing up trunks and thicker bodies wherever there's room. However, they don't produce seeds, spores, or pollen.

Orbital IV: Military Deep Space Station. Uninhabited, sends out automated attack ships if anyone tries to enter the inner system without authorization codes, which nobody knows. It identifies itself as Mandate Base QVX-507, demands access codes, warns off intruders with plenty of time for them to turn around, and attacks if anyone crosses its orbit. It has some defensive gun emplacements, but more importantly it can launch automated attack craft. If it were up to me, I'd make them 20 fighters: Half have multifocal lasers and drive-1s, the other half have reaper batteries and drive-2s. They are all atmosphere-capable.The autofighters have vehicle/space skill of 1 (for an AC of 3), a Computer skill of 1, and attack at +3. The station's intelligence has an effective computer skill of +3, for when it needs to attempt to spot vessels in the system. It is smart enough not to send all of its craft if there might be a feint attempt against it, and it can learn from prior encounters with the same intruders. It is smart enough to do things like set traps! It might, for example, have the fighters land on a planet and power down, if it thinks some ship might try to evade it and approach that planet. Then they could all come boiling up in ambush. Don't let your players get cocky.

Orbital V: Rocky Core Gas Giant, dense hydrogen atmosphere. Basically boring. One of the moons has a small colony that is serviced by the refueling station in the ice belt. The colony, Neo-London, existed before the scream and descended into total savagery. The long, icy nightmare times twisted their society into a masterpiece of sadism. Then the commander of the Refueling Station came along, and made contact with the rulers. He sold them TL4 goods necessary to revamp their society, in return for...considerations. The refueling station is now a route for smuggling slaves, illegal drugs, and other goods that can be manufactured at a large scale without high technology. In return, they received black box fusion cores (Suns of Gold, pg. 67). They have remote shutoff switches, and if the colonies don't keep a steady pack of supplies coming, then the lights, and the heat, goes off again. He also provides TL4 medicine and weapons to the mad aristocrates of Neo-London. I would personally take this in a crazy steampunk direction, because I like the idea of guys in tophats and cyber-monocles, with a huge TL4 hydroponics apparatus built of local brass fittings. Ooooh! Walking sticks with shock prods built in them, to punish unruly servants! I know steampunk is overdone, but you can make it work if you want. And it isn't really steampunk, it's not like they're making AIs out of clockwork. It's just an intermingling of local culture with high-tech imports. For your use here, I'll reprint the Feral World stuff, taken from the SWN core. Seriously, these things are fucking amazing, it's like a bag of bite-sized plot hooks. You should actually have two world tags for each world; I suggest you pick the second one yourself, to make this more unique and fit in with the tone of your campaign.

Feral World
In the long, isolated night of the Silence, some worlds have experienced total moral and cultural collapse. Whatever remains has been twisted beyond recognition into assorted death cults, xenophobic fanaticism, horrific cultural practices, or other behavior unacceptable on more enlightened worlds. These worlds are almost invariably classed under Red trade codes.
  • Enemies: Decadent noble, Mad cultist, Xenophobic local, Cannibal chef, Maltech researcher
  • Friends: Trapped outworlder, Aspiring reformer, Native wanting to avoid traditional flensing
  • Complications: Horrific local “celebration”, Inexplicable and repugnant social rules, Taboo zones and people
  • Things: Terribly misused piece of pretech, Wealth accumulated through brutal evildoing, Valuable possession owned byluckless outworlder victim
  • Places: Atrocity amphitheater, Traditional torture parlor, Ordinary location twisted into something terrible.
Just view all that through the lens of fake 19th-century England. Steam train covered in bronzed human skulls! TL4 compad hidden in a pocketwatch!

I would definitely make into named NPCs the guys who go back and forth between Neo-London and the Rim Bazaar. I figure they've got a free merchant or patrol boat rigged up. They don't need a LOT of cargo space. They're just bringing back and forth food, slaves, drugs, whatever you want there to be.

Orbital VI: Glass World with Monuments. There used to be a civilization here, which was destroyed utterly due to volcanic activity. The entire place is now a maze of razor-sharp obsidian and other dangerous hazards. There's a labyrinth carved into the surface by highly precise orbital laser welding, made by parties unknown. No one has ever found anything valuable in there, it seems to be nothing more than a place to walk and meditate on those peoples lost to history.

Orbital VII: Ice Belt with Refueling Station. The refueling station is a trade depot and haven for unsavory types. The very first time they visit, someone should warn them about trying to cross into the inner system. Tales of the many adventurers past who were chewed to pieces by automated fighter craft will probably make a difference.

  • The refueling station is known as the Rim Bazaar. It's a Bannerjee Model 12 with the following stats: Armor 5. HP 120. Crew 20/600. AC 9. Power: 34/50. Mass 40/40. Hardpoints 10. Fittings: Extended Life Support x2, Hydroponics, Workshops, Fleet Fuel Tanks + Fuel Scoops (stats are as per the book, but in this case it works completely differently. The station sends out automated miner robots, which brink back chunks of ice from the belt, and the station processes them into fuel. So, it can produce 10 units of fuel per day, with a maximum capacity of 30. See Skyward Steel for rules.) 2x Flak Emitter Battery, 1x Spinal Beam Cannon. 16,000 tons cargo space. Typical inhabitation is actually about 350-400, depending on who is on shore leave out at the Colonies. 
  • I would make a commander/owner that was around a seventh-level warrior. Give him some interesting traits, and things he wants/needs from the PCs and that they want/need from him. I would suggest that he wants people to spend money/trade things and then move on. He wants replacement parts, materials, maybe medical supplies. He wants some troublemakers shut up. He might know details of the system that he won't let go of without serious consideration.
  • Alien Representative: Figure out an alien civilization that is within a couple jumps in your campaign. One of their representatives is here, and she's up to something.
  • You want at least one person here, maybe a fifth-level expert, who is too valuable/beloved for the commander to get rid of, but who wants things to change. They want things improved for the colonies. Make them really opposed to violence, so the PCs can't shoot their way into their favor. Give them some valuable information that they won't give up without concrete gains towards their goals. Or maybe they have money, or a valuable artifact. I find that PCs will work a lot harder for a piece of unique pretech than they will for the amount of money they could sell it for.
  • Fill in a couple locations on the station that you can use as recurring set-pieces. I'd put in a cafe, a scrapyard/junk reclamation site, a pawn shop, and maybe something for entertainment. Pit-fighting tournaments every Tuesday and Friday?

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