Saturday, May 7, 2016

Curtain Call For Space Brothels

Subterranean edition of Leviathan Wakes

I manage programming in the anti-sex trafficking field, so it's perhaps not surprising that themes related to space brothels and sex workers in space really hold little interest for me. The TV show The Expanse carried forward some of the not-so-credible genre cliches associated with prostitution (e.g., working girls with nice cop boyfriends) - cliches which I'd like to think have a limited, ah, future.

But even within the limited optic of the show, we can see that the conditions of production/reproduction of space prostitution are about the same as space mining in the Belt: cramped living quarters, no differentiation between workplace and personal space, little insulation against coercion and violence. Very much like the experience of the majority of trafficked women and youth in real life.

Have I featured space brothels in my own games? Not too often, although players in my Fate Strange Stars games have visited a fetish bar on one of the Deodands' sordid orbitals, and one female player chose to create a rebel sex worker. For me it really depends a great deal on where the players want to go; I'm certainly not going to push them there. I've been in too many games that were theater for the GM's particular, or rather "particular", interests. I've probably done that myself at times, but maturity is understanding that you are GMing and creating a world for others - even when the primary and immediate motivation is creation for oneself.

What gets played out at the table depends on the comfort level of individual players. I frequently game with women and LGBTQ folks, and being LGBTQ myself, don't make assumptions that what one or two players find amusing will be universally experienced as fun or enjoyable. It's often best to know when to draw a curtain around a scene. In fact, we use a curtain-closing gesture at the gaming table as a sign that it's time to move on.

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!