Monday, March 7, 2016

Thirty Days of Space 1889: The World(s)

This weekend I read the first chapter of the Ubiquity Space 1889 RPG, "The World of Space 1889." The first chapter provides a brief overview of the Space 1889 setting, with an emphasis on technology.

A few key items are:
  • No telephones
  • No radio
  • Telegraphs (and of course mail) are how you communicate across vast distances on Earth
  • Heliographs are the only way to communicate across vast distances in space, and even then, planets like Earth and Mars may be on opposite sides of the sun (and therefore out of communication) for up to six months at a time
  • Mars has more gravity than it should (90% of Earth's)
  • There is an odd speculation that terrestrial planets' distance from the sun may tell us something about their relative age, with the outer worlds having existed for progressively greater spans of time. This latter point deserves some amplification.
The asteroid belt is Space 1889 is purportedly due to the break up of a planet called Phaeton. Now suppose for a moment that Phaeton was the first terrestrial planet, and therefore the first to reach advanced senescence and break apart.

Mars is the next oldest. Its formerly advanced civilizations are now in decline, with mere city-states left where once great empires stood. Mars' climate gradually is drying out. In time, the planet will become completely uninhabitable and it will break apart like Phaeton did.

Earth is still blue with abundant life. It represents an earlier stage of planetary evolution than Mars. Human civilization is more advanced at this point in time, meaning that our technology level is higher than on Mars, and our civilizations are expansionist and imperialistic rather than in decline.

Venus represents a stage some 150 million years younger than Earth. It is a humid, wet planet with ubiquitous shallow seas. Dinosaurs are everywhere. The only intelligent life are spear-using lizardmen. 

Mercury is even worse. It is a tidally-locked hell world. One face of the planet is scorched by the sun. The other face is frozen. Between them runs a narrow band of riverine canyons in perpetual twilight. This is the abode of extremely primitive life forms; the kind that have just emerged from the sea for the first time.

Now Darwin's The Origin of the Species By Means of Natural Selection had already been published in 1859. One wonders how the apparent discovery that planetary age increases with distance from the sun resonates or conflicts with evolutionary theory? Evolutionary theory tends to be presented in stages that correspond with geological eras. But is it one thing to depict those stages based on one planet's fossil record and geology, and yet another to assert that the stages will follow the same pattern on other worlds, and in a manner in which relative distance from the sun predicts one's current stage?  There's a lot to think about here, as this moves evolution into a much closer and less contingent orbit around physics. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thirty Days Of Space 1889

For the April 2  Saturday Night Space Opera game, I'll be running the Ubiquity system version of the Space 1889 RPG.  I actually ran a Ubiquity-based Space 1889 game once before at a convention. I had to use the Ubiquity-based Leagues of Adventure RPG for that event, due to issues with the Kickstarter for the new game. Players had a lot of fun with that convention game, and I am sure that running Space 1889 with the official Space 1889 Ubiquity rules is going to go just fine.

Over the next 30 days or so, I am planning to write a series of posts on the RPG and game world as I prepare the scenario. This will be partly reflections based on reading the book, and partly exploration of themes related to the setting.

This version of the Space 1889 setting was written by Europeans, and there are subtle changes which are intriguing to me, such as the existance of a revolutionary government in France due to the victorious Paris Commune. That detail alone is pretty cool, and creates all sorts of possibilities for "Agents of the Commune" style international, interplanetary, and even anti-colonial intrigue.

Hopefully I'll get some reading done on the Commune this month. I have two classic histories of the Commune sitting on shelves less than five feet away from me, just waiting to be read.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Saturday Night Space Opera: FASA Trek!

Our next Saturday Night Space Opera event is on Saturday, March 5 at 6 PM, at the Source Comics & Games in Roseville. Erik Mornes will again be the GM. His game a few months ago was great; it was also my first opportunity ever to play FASA Trek, even though I've been collecting the game since the 80s.

We'll look forward to seeing some of you Saturday night for the next adventure on board the Excalibur!

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Godgraft (Curses, Cost, Per Scenario, Corrupting): The caster rolls INT/Clever +2 to graft one or more divine organs, tissue, or body parts onto a willing subject. The subject must lose some of their own substance and essence to create space(s) for the graft(s) to fit, so amputations, flensing, and organ removal usually occurs prior to to casting. The recipient crosses off an existing Aspect and creates a new one representing the graft.

The recipient typically agrees to the casting because of the prospect of acquiring divine powers or abilities. The recipient rolls 1DF. On a positive roll, the GM determines what beneficial power has been acquired; on negative roll, some deleterious change occurs in the recipient as a result of the graft; on a zero (0) result, the limb, organ, or tissue is simply a functional replacement for the organ that was removed.

For the caster, this is a Major or Severe Infraction, depending on the deity and organs involved.

This spell is inspired by Michael Moorcock's Corum series.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tomorrow's Fate Strange Stars Game

You start in a backwater star cluster connected to the iceworld Boreas. The star system’s name comes from its primary planet, Zolymayas. The system has that one inhabited planet; it’s a very hostile world with a crappy, third-rate starport. The planet is almost self-sustaining. Most technology here is late 19th Century, although as usual a few hoarders and exclusive enclaves have something better. Some places have electricity, and many have intact lead piping, but there’s no free Metascape access here.

You’re in a band. You came here for a gig at a spaceport dive called The Furry Octopus. All of 5 spacers showed up for that show. Nobody seemed very impressed. The space hauler who promised you a ride back to Boreas and out of this cluster took off early. So you’ve been stuck here a while. Turns out there’s less demand for cutting edge psychedelia than you were promised. Times are tough. You could really use a gig.

You’ll create characters using the Strange Stars Fate rules. Possible player character roles in the band include:
  • Promoter
  • Lead Singer
  • Musician(s) – feel free to invent an instrument
  • Groupie
  • Drug Supplier
  • Security/Roadies
  • Your own crazy ideas
You’ll also need a name for this band. You’ll have to duke that out at the table.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "Z" Is For Zolymayas

Cluster Graphic by Lester J. Portly

Our final Strange Stars A-to-Z post is an open letter to you, dear reader. Strange Stars was built to be canon light. The Strange Stars Game Setting Book provides just enough detail for you to make the setting your own. The philosophy is that GMs are going to modify and fill out the setting anyway; our job is to create just enough to facilitate each GM's local ideation, creation, and iteration of the Strange Stars.

If you are a fan of the Diaspora RPG, you probably recognize the diagram at the top of the post as a part of a cluster of several star systems. While the Fate edition of Strange Stars is built for Fate Core, I used the Diaspora SRD to build out world generation and cluster design rules for the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook. Each sphere represents a star system and its parameters for technology, Environment, and Resources. The Technology-Environment-Resources scales run from -4 to +4 as they do in Diaspora, but the details of scale are different in the Strange Stars. A tad bleaker, you might say!  The lines and curves linking the systems represent hyperspace nodes.  

Only one of the worlds up above is "official": the anchor world in the cluster is the ice-planet of Boreas, which is described in the Strange Stars Game Setting Book. Each of the other worlds in the cluster was created by me using the system and cluster generation rules in the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook.

As for myself, I'll be using this particular patch of stars this coming Friday! The action will start in the Zolymayas system, which has one very hostile, industrializing world; a world that is almost self-sustaining. The kind of place that desperate people do desperate things to escape.

I hope you'll create your own worlds for Strange Stars! Make the Strange Stars yours!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jerry Cornelius Calling

I've been a Michael Moorcock fan since high school. Last year, I re-read the Hawkmoon cycle, as well as reading the Kane of Old Mars trilogy and the three books in the Eternal Champion series for the first time. I also started The Whispering Swarm, Moorcock's most recent autobiographical novel.

More on that in a minute.

Mind you, almost everything of Moorcock that I have read previously was part of the Eternal Champion continuity. I never read the Jerry Cornelius novels. Of course, I've had a copy of the fat orange paperback Jerry Cornelius omnibus for maybe 30 years, but I've never made any headway with it. With the first release in the Titan Books reprint of the Jerry Cornelius tetrology out this week, I decided to pick up a copy of The Final Programme and give it a go. I finished it three days after starting the book.

While the Eternal Champion novels have always been popular with fans, the Jerry Cornelius series has had a cult following of its own. While it is a bit challenging to describe Jerry Cornelius, rock and roll playboy assassin might work. The trappings of the 1960s, including drugs (particularly hallucinogens), rock and roll, and sexual experimentation, are all over this novel. Add science fiction staples from the pulps such as needle guns, the Hollow Earth, and fringe science. Then add Eastern mysticism.

Much of this might invite comparisons with Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Heinlein's work is far more coherent, but Moorcock puts a great deal more on the table in terms of engagement with real-world sexuality.

For example, there's a lot of homosexuality in the novel, but not a trace of homophobia. That's very unusual for 1960s SF. The scenes in The Final Programme in which Cornelius hangs out in a London gay bar/pinball hall are very evocative; these must have been based on places where Moorcock was hanging out with friends.

As far as internal coherence goes, the sentence structure here is crisp. We're reading fine, brief Moorcockian sentences. Frequently, the banter between the characters provoked surprised laughter. There were also two amusing forays into Rabelasian lists; one was a list of types of party-goers; the other subject was academic/scientific specialties beginning with the letter "A".

But the novel's structure and plot: not so coherent. Figuring out what is really happening as this novel progresses from "Phase" to "Phase" (as the multi-chapter sections are called) is a puzzler. Part of this may be what Moorcock revealed about himself in The Whispering Swarm: he has periodic visions and hallucinations. He was also part of the drugs and rock and roll scene in the 1960s, so it's perhaps not surprising that the novel is an odd plot.

That being said, it's not difficult to see the lipstick traces between this work and several others, including William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch (1959), Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus Trilogy (1975+), and maybe also Grant Morrison's Invisibles (1994+).  The Jerry Cornelius character also inspired other peoples' creations such as Brian Talbot's Luther Arkwright (1978) and Grant Morrison's Gideon Stargrave (1978). The former was explicitly encouraged by Moorcock and even has its own RPG now; the latter led to accusations of plagarism.

One warning if you read the re-issue: John Clute delivers huge spoilers in his introductory essay. You might not want to read that until you finish the tetrology. It really kind of ruined the reading experience for me, and spoilers usually don't bother me.

I intend to soldier on through the rest of tetrology as Titan releases the rest of the reissues. In the meantime, it's time to start reading Titan's reissues of the Corum saga!