Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "U" Is For Ulster

Exile concept art by Joshua Gabriel Timbrook

When I was writing the Strange Stars Fate Rulebook, I had conversations with setting creator Trey Causey about how technology worked in his setting. One of the things he shared is that spacecraft have smartmatter barriers that you can pass through to leave the ship. When you pass through, it wraps a smartmatter spacesuit around you. 

The concept reminded me a bit of the skinhugging Ulsters, a setting-defining spacesuit worn in Mark Rein-Hagen's Exile RPG setting. 

I am going to use Ulsters in the next Strange Stars game I run. 

Two drafts of Exile were published before White Wolf discontinued work on the project. Exile was hands-down the most epic space opera setting that has ever been created. It promised to revolutionize SF gaming the same way that Exalted did fantasy.

I am sharing two excerpts from the first and second drafts to share the concept of Ulster. 

Content below the first triple asterisk is from the first draft of Exile.

Content below the second triple asterisk is from the second draft. Where a table was deleted I added a [snip].

No challenge to the image rights or authorship is intended.

I hope this excerpt gives readers a sense of what might have been possible with this game. 

Another piece of concept art by Joshua Gabriel Timbrook


Ulster — Standard spacesuit. Bacteria colonies insure reusable air, process waste and provide a suitable temperature and pressure to your environment. Tiny micro-maneuver thrusters allow movement in zero-gravity environments. Inertia compass included. Comes in black, gray or dark blue. Three patch pockets standard. Equipment straps available upon request. $1,000.


Ulster Discipline

***The text in the ulster section should caress the images of people in Ulsters, wrapping in interesting ways around the photographic forms of Exiles. The figures are posed in a combination of anatomical illustrationesque positioning and fetish catalog style. They are impervious to the deadly environments that surround them: the surface of a starship, near the Trinary Suns, on an mine asteroid, in Nullspace. Microtext points out features and items of interest.***

The Only Thing Between You and the Void

Your Ulster is your friend. There is nothing, nothing at all more important that it when you are in space. Your priorities are: 1. Breathing and 2. Know Thy Ulster. 

What follows is some extremely useful advice about your second skin. Your Skin2 lets you keep your warm wet animalness alive pretty much anywhere, and it has an infinite number of clever functions as well. The Skin2 is literally that: it coats you like a layer of paint.  A flexible, extremely tough paint that recycles your waste, blocks cosmic radiation, super thermo-insulates against heat and cold, performs basic first aid should you need it, and can play host to an endlessly diverse number of accessories from strength-boosting exo-skeletons to built-in entertainment systems, to weapon holsters and mounts.  (Don’t let an Artifex find out what that plasma-thrower hardpoint is for though -- they’ll ‘fix’ it trying to look after your best interests.)

In and out of the second skin:
Alone, the basic Ulster resembles loosely connected strips of black leathery material.  Wearing nothing, don the Ulster by holding it so the strips fall vertically.
The Ulster will change and the bottom half will form two tubes. 
Step into the legs first. Notice it shifting and forming to you.
It will crawl up the rest of your body and stop at your neck. 
A flap projecting from the nape of the neck may now be stretched over to enclose the head if desired.
Note that additional attachments and lodes can be introduced and the Ulster will detect and interface with them automatically.

Removing the Skin2 is a bit more difficult.
First, detach any Lodes and extras.  The Ulster will go flaccid and stretchy.
Start with your face and stretch the neck opening until you can fit a shoulder through it.
Get the arm out of that side and proceed to stretch the material around the opposite shoulder.
Slip the rest off down the torso and legs and you’re out.  Usually takes three or four minutes.

<<<There are as many different kinds of Ulsters as there are those wearing them (the basic ship manifest type is barely functional, but with money and connections you might get your body in a Skin2 with more advanced functions), so we’ll be a bit general.  First off, the Artifex make Ulsters, and if you ever have one that’s damaged or lose the one you have just ask a tinker or higher grade T-Fex and generally they’ll fix you up.  They know (as you should too) that a human without a working Ulster is a dead human.  Luckily whatever little voices they listen to inside their heads makes sure they help out anyone in Ulster-trouble.  They won’t upgrade the Skin2 unless they’re loyal to you and even then you need to know what to tell them to do.>>>


Known ulsters are apparently composed of a mixture of four substances, whose different proportions affect the way a lode can modify and enhance its functions. Lodes configure the various substances dynamically to actualize enhancements. For instance, the Military type/mix has a diamond-like sheen to it, seeming to lend itself to toughness and structure-based applications. Furthermore, Ulster material is made of hundreds of layers of micro-woven materials, forming shielding layers, transport layers, actuator layers, et cetera.  An Ulster can do pretty much anything because its structure is mutable, stretchable, and can serve as a medium for stuff like Lodes and Machina to communicate through.

You need to have a Consortium techie make these modifications, or have an owned Tinker fiddle with it under your direction, but here are some more ways an Ulster can be modified:

generate breathable air by itself
coats you inside and out (through your digestive, respiratory, and reproductive tract)
monitors your hormonal and endocrine chemistry and alters it as you wish
has self-renewing maneuvering jets
forms storage vacuoles for liquids and solids
animate its form on the fly for theatrical and camouflage purposes
form tentacles or tails or even extra limbs
generate and stores electrical power from solar cells or ionosphere wires
act as its own telemetry send/receive antenna
work with a Signet lode as its all-around sensorium recorder
automatically perform surgery and medical functions

You can see how the versatility of an Ulster is limited only by the imagination (and skill) of the wearer.  And the degree to which the lodes’ mandates are broken that you’re installing.

<<<Another important note: take it off.  It’s rare that one gets the opportunity to be out of your Ulster.  I know we say you gotta have it on and it’s the most important thing, but when you’re safe you should take it off.  For one thing, sex is much better in just your original skin, unlike the fun but essentially impersonal Ulster-shielded couplings that pass for most sex in the Grange.  Risk of infection and the element of trust involved makes it a whole new thing... you’ll like it.  Oh, and then there’s the stories you hear about belt miners who wear their Skin2s for years and years:  I saw with my own eyes when one took off her Ulster and her REAL skin came off with it  -- just sloughed off and she didn’t feel a thing ‘till her nerve endings hit the air!  Seems the Ulster bonds to your epidermis after a time.  Consider yourself warned.

On a lighter note, be creative with how you wear your Skin2.  Nothing marks you more as a green Exile than a plain Ulster.  Paint it, wear clothing over it, attach blinking lights to it, morph it into a unique drape, cut, and shape -- express yourself, baba.  This is the Grange and you should revel in your newfound freedom!>>>

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