Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dollar Store Dungeons: Lamprey Centipede

The centipede pictured above was one of a number of bugs in a $1 package of Creatures purchased at the dollar store. Full details on the contents of the package are available on our sister blog, The Everwayan. 

The Lamprey Centipede 

One of the post-apocalyptic horrors found in The Alwyn Campaign, the Lamprey Centipede is a subterranean threat on the post-apocalyptic future Earth of Babylon 5. It is one of a number of horrific monsters that can be found while exploring ruins from the age before the Great Burn. Whether it is one of the atomic children of the Great Burn, or is simply something that escaped from a laboratory or zoo during that disaster is one of the many mysteries lost in time. Perhaps one of the learned souls in the great monasteries of the South knows the truth...

Lamprey Centipedes range in length from 2-3 meters. They live in underground caves and tunnels, emerging at night to hunt game. Favorite prey include deer and wild pigs, but humans are all too often on their menu. The centipedes often stalk along tunnels, sewers, and wells, infiltrating the cellars of human dwellings in search of an easy meal.

The most horrifying feature of the Lamprey Centipede is how it eats. It has a circular maw flanked by two huge pincers. When the centipede senses its prey, the pincers become coated with a white frothy a paralytic poison. The Lamprey Centipede will first try to paralyze its prey with the pincers. Then its circular mouth will project outward for up to two decimeters, and begin chewing its way into the body of its victim. Our PCs killed a Lamprey Centipede in the second episode of The Alwyn Campaign. They found an interesting signet ring in its guts, along with some human finger bones.

When attacking humans, the Lamprey Centipede goes in the hard way.  It prefers to bite through the sternum and then consume the victim's heart and lungs first. Once it has cleaned out the victim's chest cavity, it begins eating downward and consumes the soft and calorie-rich organs in the abdomen. Miraculously, the victim often remains in a semi-conscious state during part or all of this two course meal. It's a horrible last meal.

Chirurgeons and torturers will pay delvers top dollar when they return with samples of the Lamprey Centipede's venom. Its armored segments are also valuable; they can also be used to fashion lamellar armor. Its teeth are exceptionally strong and sharp, and can be mounted for use as the blades on a macuahuitl.



Lamprey Centipede
Giant centipedes (neutral)

  • High Concept: Mutant centipedes with a taste for human flesh
  • Trouble:  Fears light and fire  
  • Aspect: "Did you just see something?"
  • Aspect: Frothy poison fangs
  • Aspect: There's never just one
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +1
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +3
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Bone Saw: The creature takes a +2 to its Forceful Attack when biting through leather/cloth armor or a victim's ribcage to get to the tasty soft meat.
  • Paralytic Fangs: When the creature Succeeds with Style on a Forceful Attack, it injects its victim with a paralytic venom. The victim gains the Aspect Paralyzed for the remainder of the Scene. The venom also does +2 stress per turn until an anti-venom or some other healing measure occurs. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

There's A Centipede On My Dollar Store!

What can a GM buy for their games in a Dollar Store if they have ten bucks? My friend Rachel Kronick proposed we explore this question back when there wasn't snow on the ground in Minnesota (hint: no earlier than May 2013). It took a while for us to set up a time shopping expedition in which we would each spend $10 on gaming supplies, but we finally did that last weekend. The result will be a series of posts on our blogs about what we each purchased, and how we might use those items in our gaming.

We used a very specific methodology in shopping:
  • The goal was to purchase $10 items each, and to do multiple posts each featuring an item
  • We agreed on an NTE ("Not to Exceed" amount in managed care parlance) of $10 for each of us (excluding tax)
  • Anything in the store could be purchased, as long as the purchaser thought it had some utility at the gaming table
  • We would browse and make our selections independently of each other while in the store together, so that we did not influence each others' purchasing decisions 
Rachel did her first post today, which you can see here.

I will start individual item posts tomorrow, but we're starting today with the gallery of what we purchased for our $10:

Sure, we're being a little bit coy with such a blurry photo. We want you to come back! Ten items, ten posts. Come back tomorrow to see the mysterious reveal begin in earnest.

You can join this project too! Here's details.

Rotwang's Unheimlich Haven

Rotwang's house in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1927)

Rotwang's Unheimlich Haven (Evocation, Cost, Per Scenario, Permanent): Almost invisible, this house might huddle at the base of any great city, hardly noticeable among the giant girders and foundation blocks that surround it. A nondescript and not-quite-symmetrical structure - perhaps partially melted by radiation or other-planar energies - its roof and walls have no doubt settled a bit over the years. When someone passes by this house, they usually think it is abandoned, having been no doubt seized by the city under eminent domain, then slated for demolition, and then promptly forgotten. That's one of the conveniences provided by Rotwang's Unheimlich Haven: it's hard to notice, the eyes can't settle on it for long, and the house doesn't persevere in the memory of those who do see it.

It's the perfect place to hide. And work.

Rotwang's Unheimlich Haven is a summonable sanctuary for alchemists, steampunks, sorcerer-scientists, and etherites. Once summoned, the Haven provides a laboratory, library, kitchen, bath, and sleeping quarters suitable for up to five people. The kitchen and icebox are not stocked; those who would live in the Haven must venture out to find food.

What it is well-stocked with are scientific and magical supplies necessary for complex investigations and rituals.  It is a failsafe place to bring a robot to full consciousness or sentience, or to stitch together the parts of dead men to create a new body suitable for reanimation. The technology level of the laboratory is positively futuristic when compared to the best laboratories in the London or Berlin of the 1930s, but is quaint by modern standards.

The spell Greater Pass Turing Test can be performed within the Haven at No Cost.

Once summoned, the Haven connects immediately to the city's plumbing, sewer, gas, and electrical systems. These connections are impossible to trace to the Haven, providing an additional level of anonymity for the Haven's summoner, and adding to the impression that the Haven is abandoned.

The Haven also connects physically with the hidden areas beneath cities. There is a hatch in the basement floor of the Haven which connects to the labyrinth of cellars, tunnels, bunkers, vaults, sewers, and passageways under the city where it is summoned. When a city lacks extensive underground systems, a new network begins to spontaneously develop once the Haven is summoned. These spread out like a spiderweb fracture radiating from the Haven's location; the tunnels and substructures will remain in the city even after the Haven departs. They are entirely random in character, an expression of the inner chaos propelling any cutting edge scientific endeavor.

There's a walled-in yard attached to the house. The wall itself is too high for someone standing outside to peer over. What might be back there? Trash, broken or abandoned furniture, an old pig pen? Chickens? Feral cats? Iron Pigs? Buried things? Probably all of the above, and more. For with each new summoning, the Haven "upgrades" to reflect changes made to its environment by its previous occupants. If the police ever start nosing around, they will find incriminating evidence of many varieties...

Finally, the Haven can be readily barred against physical intrusion, and cannot be penetrated by Mind or Divination spells. The roof is wooden, however, and can be burned.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Obscure Simulations Roundup: Metamorphosis Alpha

Today's FATE SF post is our contribution to the Obscure Simulations Roundup, a community blog hop dedicated to forgotten or under-appreciated RPGs. As regular readers of FATE SF know, I have a forthcoming generation ship RPG of my own called Project Generations. So it shouldn't be a big surprise that my OSR post is an appreciation for Jim Ward's original generation ship SF RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha (TSR, 1976).

Metamorphosis Alpha isn't the most obscure or forgotten RPG. After all, it was the first SF RPG published. It's not even out-of-print. You can buy Metamorphosis Alpha in PDF here, or pick up a hard copy from Lulu here.

I'm writing about Metamorphosis Alpha today because it has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first RPGs I purchased, shortly after the first edition of Traveller and around the same time that I picked up Whitebox D&D.

Cover of the Dell edition of Heinlein's "Universe"

One of the first SF novels I read as a kid was Robert A. Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky. It was an SF novel about a population of humans and mutants (you can see the mutant Joe-Jim standing in the picture above) living on a slower-than-light interstellar generation ship many generations after the ship's launch. Over that time, successive generations had 1) forgotten that they were on a star ship, and 2) had lost the skills to pilot and maintain their vessel. They were essentially lost in space, facing eventual doom unless a group of heroes rediscovered that they were on a ship that had a destination in mind. A small band of humans and mutants - two communities usually at each others' throats - made this discovery and set about to bring things to right.

Generation ship stories often involve an epistemological break from ignorance, to (re)discovery, to setting things right. Such a discovery is common in SF stories but particularly important in traditional generation ship narratives. For example, you see it in the very title of the classic Star Trek episode about the generation ship Yonada"For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky".

While scientific and cosmological discoveries made by characters in the Cthulhu Mythos stories are ultimately disempowering, underscoring the futility of human effort and of irrelevance of the human scale, discoveries made in generation ship stories are ultimately liberating and empowering. People learn that the world is not what it seems, that it needs to be fixed or improved in some way, and that the means to fix the generation ship and set its course right are within the characters' reach - if they know where to look, and what to make of things! The characters may have to struggle or sacrifice, but their efforts aren't ultimately in vain. That's hopeful, and a call to responsibility.


Of course, my encounter with the generation ship in Orphans of the Sky was quickly followed by watching the early '70s SF generation ship TV series, The Starlost. Ed Bryant and Harlan Ellison wrote the screenplay (and a novel, "Phoenix Without Ashes") for this Canadian TV series, and Ellison quickly turned against his series very vocally, deriding laughable plots, implausible SF terms, and rotten dialogue.  In 2011, "Phoenix Without Ashes" was also published by IDW as a graphic novel.

Oh well.  I loved the show as a kid. The ship model was wonderful and there was some interesting tech on the ship, such as the the habitat hemispheres, the iris doors, the small cassettes and devices used to control access to different parts of the ship through the iris doors, the bounce tubes that helped people get around the non-habitat parts of the ship quickly, and of course the librarian AI.

Silent Running also comes to mind as a generation ship eco-narrative of the '70s - even if those ships weren't really going anywhere.

Silent Running (1972)

They also had cute maintenance and gardening droids. Every generation ship needs maintenance drones of some kind. Somebody needs to continue working and repairing things while the humans busy themselves with killing each other.

Silent Running

So anyway, back to Metamorphosis Alpha. It's an extremely simple system by contemporary standards, but it does the job. There are six Abilities, rolled randomly using 3d6: Radiation Resistance (pretty important, as the generation ship Warden in the default setting was damaged by a cloud of interstellar radiation and is still contaminated with radiation), Mental Resistance (defense against psionic mental attacks, as well as the intelligence skill that helps characters understand the ship's now ancient, mysterious, and often deadly tech), DexterityStrength, Leadership Potential (only pure humans can attract followers; human and animal mutants don't even get this Ability), and Constitution (determines how many d6 of hit dice you get, as well as your ability to survive poisoning). If after reading the Constitution bit you're saying "Hello, Carcossa" you should be, although in Metamorphosis Alpha you only roll the dice for hit points when you create your character - not every encounter.

If you are a pure human, you are pretty much done at this point. Take clothes and weapons typical of your community. If you are going to play a mutant human or mutant animal, you roll 1d4 to determine the number of physical mutations you get, and 1d4 for the number of mental mutations. You pick your mutations from the lists for each type. Then the GM gets to roll to determine randomly what physical and mental mutational defects you get; the GM rolls either once (if the player has 4 or less mutations) or twice (i.e., once on each list, if the PC has 5 or more mutations). Mutants get no equipment.

Then you are ready to play. The core mechanic is d20 based and there won't be huge surprises to people who have played other OSR d20 games.

The GM needs to have at least part of one level of the Warden detailed before play begins. This is good as it enables sandbox play, but there's nothing to stop the GM from detailing as much of the ship upfront as they'd like to do. Like building a dungeon, this is a game in itself.

The book tells you what the general details of each deck of the ship should be, as well as the kinds of technologies found on the ship, and their relative complexity; PCs roll their Mental Resistance vs. an item's complexity in order to figure out if their character knows what to do with it and can handle it without risk of injury. There's guidance to help the GM build mutated animals, plants, and humans, as well as guidance for robots and androids (i.e., chemical life - essentially, replicants).

There's no experience system, so (all things being equal) characters will keep the abilities that they have until death or the end of the campaign. I think that's good, as it keeps play focused on exploration and problem-solving, and not on monster hunting and treasure seeking as ends in themselves. All the treasure in the world won't do you a bit of good if your ship burns up in an alien sun, crashes into an uninhabitable planet, or runs out of gas between the stars.

Here's a few campaign ideas for Metamorphosis Alpha:

Metamorphosis Moonbase Alpha: The sudden departure of Earth's rogue moon caused a disaster at home, and a very long, strange trip for the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha. The Alphans are used to sudden transitions. One moment, their moon is travelling along in the depths of interstellar space; a few days or weeks or months later, it is careening into another solar system entirely.

So imagine the Alphans' surprise when they receive an automated distress signal from a ship they are approaching. A signal in English. It's a vast ship. It's an Earth ship: the hull says: "Warden." Moonbase Alpha's computer (there is only one!) has no record of any such launch. Was the vessel launched after the moon ripped itself out of Earth orbit?

A ship this big could have many things of value on board: replacement technology, hydroponic supplies and seeds, medicines, astrogational records, news from Earth - many things. The ship is crawling with radiation. It's too risky to send more than one Eagle to investigate. The Commander calls for volunteers.

[The GM should secretly roll 1d6. That is how many days the Eagle crew will have to explore the Warden before the moon begins to accelerate away from the Warden forever.]

An Eagle from Space:1999

Return to Yonada: The  U.S.S. Enterprise is called back to the asteroid generation ship of Yonada. A civil war has broken out on the vessel, even as it has settled into a stable orbit around a habitable world. A restorationist cult called The Most Devoted to the Oracle have declared that it is heresy to leave Yonada. They have tapped into the central computer of the ancient space ark, and have appropriated the medical secrets of the Fabrini (the Yonadan's distant ancestors who built the ship), unleashing a mutogenic viral plague which has wreaked havoc on the People of Yonada. Worse still, the High Priestess of the People, Natira, has gone missing. She must be rescued, as Natira is the Yonadan leader with the greatest interest in helping the People of Yonada complete their ancestors' long journey to colonize a new world.

Play a native Yonadan loyal to Natira, or a Federation officer! Find Yonada's rightful ruler! Defeat the cult and its mutant menace!


Ark of the Shunned Ones: A reconnaissance starship far beyond the borders of the Humanspace Empire discovers an ancient generation ship: a vessel of the hideous and inimical Shunned Ones. The Ship's Telepath reports the presence of human minds on-board the generation ship, as well as the minds of a great many other alien races. The Shunned Ones' ship is in a terrible state of disrepair, leaking radiation and strange other-planar energies; it may not survive much longer. It would be desirable to rescue the humans on-board, and to explore this great vessel before its imminent demise. The Captain orders a team of scientists and marines to board the ship.

Hideous Inimical Alien From "This Island Earth"

Beneath the Pyramid of the Sun: The great hexagonal Sun crosses the sky every day. Every day, your temple feeds it a live human heart, ensuring that it will return from the Underworld at the end of the night to bring the next day. Yet today, just before the sacrifice, a strange creature appeared from the Underworld beneath the temple, and stole the mid-day sacrifice. A group of brave warriors and priests must descend into the Underworld and find this monster.

"Chariots of the Gods?", anyone? Aztecs, mutants, and more on a generation ship with many different habitat compartments, each containing a different ancient human culture.  (Check out Harry Harrison's Captive Universe for even more inspiration!)

"Captive Universe" cover art by Alan Guttierez

Also, be sure to check out Brett Slocum's idea for a Paranoia-Metamorphosis Alpha mash-up over at The Eye of Joyful Sitting Amongst Friends blog.

Finally, we leave you with a rather evocative piece from near the end of the Metamorphosis Alpha book. The artist is David Sutherland, who was not only responsible for the art in Metamorphosis Alpha, but also did many of the illustrations for Empire of the Petal Throne.

Art by David Sutherland! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Deck Of Fridays 8: Opposing Forces


Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: Opposing Forces. The card has a zero value - truly balanced. Today's post for Deck of Fridays is a spell that creates this condition.

The Mirrored Nexus of Opposing Forces (The Planes, Cost, Persistent/Permanent): A favorite combat and assassination formula of the Nexialists, The Mirrored Nexus of Opposing Forces summons a living being from a mirror dimension who is in all respects but one identical a targeted person within three Zones of the summoner. The essential difference is that the being summoned follows an ethical alignment opposed to that of the target. Except for this difference, the summoned double will have the same (or very similar) appearance, personality, dress, aspects, skills, stunts, and equipment as the spell's target.

The summoner must have a sample of the target's DNA or a digital record of their genetic code in order for the formula to acquire the proper target. The target's genetic material must be actively being scanned by the summoner. For this reason, Nexialist casters often wear a heads-up display while casting the formula.

Without this DNA sample, the being summoned will invariably be a double of the summoner. The records of Nexialist formulae always exclude this important detail; it is one of the many unpleasant surprises left for those who would steal their secrets.

The summoned double will immediately attempt to kill the target. If the double fails, it is returned at the end of the Scene to its mirror dimension of origin. On the other hand, if the target is Taken Out, it is shifted to the mirror dimension from which its double came. (Concessions should create very interesting ongoing complications for the target.) The double will take the place of the target, and remains on the summoner's plane indefinitely.

The summoned double has no particular disposition with respect to its summoner. Its immediate focus is the elimination of the target. The GM may secretly roll 4DF to determine the double's disposition toward the summoner. The more negative the roll, the more negative the disposition; the more favorable the roll, the more favorable the disposition.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pass Turing Test


The Fate Freeport Companion provides an excellent framework for spell-creation for Fate. We will be posting new spells here at FATE SF, including science-fictional ones, conversions of old school spells (probably using Swords & Wizardry as our reference material), as well as some unique spells that will be useful in a variety of settings, both SFnal and otherwise.

Our first couple of spells will focus on artificial intelligence, and the simulacra thereof.

As the list grows and feedback comes in, we'll be revising the spells and eventually indexing them. For the moment, you'll be able to find spells using the Label SPELLS.

Lesser Pass Turing Test (Illusion, Cost, Persistent): This spell imbues an ordinary machine with the semblance of intelligence. As long as the machine has a display or speaker system (or some other means of communicating) it has the ability to feign Intelligence (Mundane 0) with any observer(s) present. Observers roll their Intelligence vs. the caster's Charisma +2 (caster makes one roll for all observers). Caster chooses an aspect that all observers who fail their roll are affected by, such as PERSUADED, DISTRACTED, or CONFUSED.

Greater Pass Turing Test (Enchantment, Cost, Persistent): A machine with some form of processor (no matter how rudimentary) is uplifted to full intelligence for one scene. The machine may be as small as a tablet computer, a robot or android, a mainframe computer, or a towering mecha. This is a Create an Advantage action based on the caster's Charisma. If a +2 is achieved on the result, a temporary aspect such as INTELLIGENT, CONSCIOUS, or SENTIENT is placed on the machine, with a starting Intelligence of 0. Each shift in excess of +2 moves the Intelligence of the machine up by +1. Uplifting a machine to intelligence does not guarantee a specific disposition of the machine with respect to the caster, once the machine has been awakened. Intelligence falls off precipitously at the end of a Scene, but not so quickly that the uplifted intelligence will not notice its rapid decline. If Corruption rules are being used in your game, this precipitous decline means that casting the spell is a minor infraction.

What's Inside That Stasis Box?

Fresh meat! A Kzin examines the contents of a stasis box

Stasis boxes are featherweight storage devices of the ancients. When active, a stasis box encloses its contents within a stasis field which suspends the passage of time. Items put into a stasis box can remain in their "present" state unchanged for millions - even billions - of years. Stasis boxes are therefore a unique window onto the very remote past.

And you have to have one to find one: a stasis box will begin to glow when it is within a few light years of another stasis box. Once in-system, deep radar (using compressed neutrinos) can then be used to "ping" the specific location of the stasis box. This is the only way to find one.


"What's Inside That Stasis Box?" Table

Roll 1d30.
  1. Hundreds of Eyes, each no more than 1 cm in diameter.
  2. A ring with an unfaceted ruby gem.
  3. A machine-bug typewriter.
  4. You hear a loud shrieking whine; it's phaser set on overload.
  5. Space-time is folded inside the box into several Psychic Scrolls.
  6. An octagonal pendant on a chain. One face of the pendant depicts an open mouth with its curled tongue protruding.
  7. A small tablet device (apparently uncharged) and without a charger.
  8. Three large (10 cm in diameter) soft-shelled eggs.
  9. Five hundred loose sheets of paper, each apparently blank. One sheet, midway through the stack of leaves, has a hand-drawn map and numerous notations in an alien script.
  10. The head of a robot.
  11. The head of an android.
  12. A robot hand or heavy metal gauntlet. The "knuckles" on each finger have very fine inscriptions. 
  13. A writhing mass of tentacles.
  14. A fine mist which clings to the interior of the box.
  15. Several dozen crumbs.
  16. A wooden stake covered in some grue or ichor.
  17. A doll-sized mummy of roughly human proportions; it is 30 cm tall.
  18. A set of keys.
  19. Eight cuboctahedrons, approximately 10 cm from side-to-side. Each item is composed of a predominantly white, grainy material (rather like granular laundry detergent) with flecks of light blue and brown matter within its matrix. If squeezed, the cuboctahedrons collapse into piles of the granular material.
  20. Dozens of capsules containing unknown substances.
  21. A small bound journal filled with notes in an alien language.
  22. Several ampules, each containing a colored viscous fluid.
  23. A knife composed of a white ceramic material. The hilt is of a polished black stone. The blade is covered with inscriptions.
  24. Data crystals containing star charts.
  25. Several hand-painted figurines. These appear to be very ancient representations of several well-known Star-Saints.
  26. Sonic screwdriver or machine phallus? Further investigation required.
  27. Data crystals with numerous DNA sequences.
  28. Strips of paper with hand-written quotations from ancient religious texts; the paper strips have a strong psychic residue.
  29. A device with a "hilt" or grip, and a round softball-sized module above the grip. The module is covered with numerous physical push-buttons.
  30. A matrix composed of numerous glowing gems.  

The "Stasis Box" concept was invented by Larry Niven. I first encountered it in his Known Space short story, "The Soft Weapon", which served as the basis for the Star Trek animated series script for "The Slaver Weapon".

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Kzinti Reloaded


What could be better for Christmas than a Kzinti ambush? We're thinking a bit today about how the Kzinti will be upgraded for our "Ringworld Reloaded" scenario at Con of the North in February. As with our exploration of the reloaded Puppeteers yesterday, one of the key questions for the scenario is how the transhuman technologies of Nova Praxis have affected the Kzinti. There are also a bunch of other canon-changing questions that we'll get into here.

Larry Niven introduced the Kzinti as something of a foil for the humans as they expanded into space. As a decidedly uncowardly, impulsive, and aggressive species, the Kzinti also made a wonderful contrast with the cowardly, conservative, and cautious Puppeteers. Given the role that honor, proving one's bravery, and making a name for oneself has played in Kzinti culture, I don't see them readily adopting the entire panoply of transhuman technologies.

Chuft Captain

Any technology that makes "the final death" irrelevant or impossible (such as backup copies of one's mind), or even worse, pervasive forking would tend to dilute any claims to honor or glory. Exactly which copy or which fork gets to keep an honor-name earned by a deceased "original"?

That being said, Kzinti telepaths, who are seen as cowardly anyway, might actually experiment with a number of transtype technologies - especially shells, backups, and forks. These would create an even greater social gap and sense of disdain and distrust between the warrior types and the telepaths, but I think ultimately the Kzinti would appreciate having a limited number of these experts working on behalf of their warriors.

Kzinti Telepath

For their own safety, the transtype Kzinti telepaths would probably use Shells out in the field. They'd scan the enemy with their meat-body from a safe distance away, while their Shell works directly with a ground combat team to infiltrate and counter the enemy's networked systems. In order to protect the Kzinti combat honor-system, the telepaths' Shells would be only lightly armed; the warriors wouldn't want any competition from cowardly telepaths.

The Patriarch would almost certainly demand that the transtype telepaths be physically, socially, and technologically isolated from the rest of Kzinti society when not actively part of field operations. The transtype telepaths might even have their own world or an orbital tucked safely away somewhere within Kzinti space, no doubt kept under the constant watchful eye of numerous ECM-shielded Kzinti warships.

Cyberwear, though, that's a different issue. My guess is that Kzinti warriors wouldn't eschew a variety of cybermodifications as long as those are hidden beneath their ample fur. So, reinforced skeletons and muscular systems, special organs to process and clear toxins and contaminants, maybe even internal stasis fields to protect a few vital organs (brain, heart, etc.) in the case of a lethal blow - any of those might be fair game, as long as they can't be seen at a casual glance, and don't erode the Kzinti cultural preference for unique personal identities that can be accorded honor for specific deeds.

The Puppeteers will sell this cybertechnology to those Kzinti warriors who want it. Kzinti should expect to pay full price for the tech, or the Puppeteers may offer them an opportunity to barter for it.   The barter might involve having a warrior check out a strange planet, orbital, or ship, or investigate other space phenomena that the Puppeteers (naturally) fear to investigate on their own.

Puppeteers would be all to willing to keep quiet about their surgical interventions; they are cowards after all.

There's still the issue of sexual dimorphism. I haven't decided what to do about that, but Larry Niven's notion that Kzinti females aren't intelligent just isn't very appealing to me as a GM. We may opt for more of a gender-based cultural dimorphism, along the lines of SF author Eleanor Arnason's Hwarhath:
  • Males are violent, impulsive, and irrational. They are kept away from females and children. 
  • Males guard the borders of the civilization; they are the military. It's where they can do the least harm to society.
  • Females have an equal capacity for violence, but are much more discerning in its application. Their aggression is more often channeled into economic and political affairs. And of course poisoning and assassination.
  • Females and males consequently live very separate lives; homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is a shameful form of social deviance.
  • All biological reproduction happens through artificial insemination; females raise all the offspring. Males, of course, are sent to the border when they become juveniles.
  • Females run government and economy. Most females stay on the core world(s). 
  • Kzinti economies tend to be autarchic in nature, since females do not often go to the borders to negotiate with aliens. In certain periods, non-threatening aliens (e.g., Puppeteers) are invited to the core worlds for trade negotiations.
  • A certain degree of black market trade and smuggling occurs on the borders of Kzinti space. This is usually managed on the Kzinti side by members of the military. It is a form of corruption and graft, which is considered neither honorable nor dishonorable in itself, as long as it doesn't distract military officials from their core duties of defending and expanding the borders of Kzinti space. Occasionally such black market trade leads to important technology transfers; this can advance ambitious officers' careers to the General Staff itself.  
  • In this general scheme, there would be no Patriarch, but instead a Matriarch and a Council of Elders (all female, of course) - and an all-male General Staff.  
  • Diplomacy is a bit of a sticky wicket. First encounters almost always involve the all-male military, and are invariably accompanied by violence. Wars usually start spontaneously and impetuously, rather than as a matter of policy. 
  • In the event that a war needs to be ended through some sort of negotiation process (a denouement which is the rule in Kzinti wars, rather than the exception) the end of hostilities is negotiated by a delegation composed equally of Kzinti female officials, diplomats, and traders, and members of the Kzinti General Staff. 
  • Such negotiation processes typically break down numerous times before they reach a successful conclusion. In practice, these negotiations are a three party affair: the alien party, the Kzinti government party, and the Kzinti military party.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Could Be Trouble: Insane Puppeteers

Art by John Byrne

Sorry about the bait-and-switch. This isn't the first time John Byrne has put Larry Niven's Puppeteers into a comic. He did that in his X-Men run too. But today's post isn't about Puppeteers in Star Trek. We just think it's a fun image!

What we're on about today is Puppeteers in the more modern milieu of transhuman SF. I will be running a Nova Praxis "Ringworld Reloaded" scenario at Con of the North in February, so I have been wondering a bit what the "new" Puppeteers I will introduce there will be like.

Specifically, what does Puppeteer insanity look like in the transhuman future of "Ringworld Reloaded"?

Well, because the Puppeteers are cowardly herd-based herbivores (they're definitely not the brave kind), any Puppeteer who shows signs of not being afraid - things like being out in the world, travelling in FTL spacecraft, spending time with carnivorous and impulsive Kzinti, poking around Neutron Stars, or exploring strange new worlds in person - they are most definitely insane!

Niven showed us all that back in the day.  The Puppeteer's supreme leader - the very icon of that species' cautious and cowardly nature - is called the Hindmost for a reason.

I am thinking of adding a few new forms of not being afraid to the insane Puppeteer's behavioral repertoire. Here they are, with the voice of the Hindmost in italics as a silent critique of these insane behaviors:
  • Cybermodification: the Puppeteer has replaced many parts of its body with cyberware. Risky, risky. Who made this tech? It certainly isn't of General Products manufacture. Humans? How extensively was it tested? For how many Puppeteer generations was it tested?
  • Genetic modification: the Puppeteer has hacked its own genes to make improvements - maybe a third eye-stalk, of course backward-facing for greater safety from predators. They've left the herd, that much is clear. But with all these messy genetic modifications, are they even a part of our species any more? And what if these modifications spread virally?
  • Shells: the Puppeteer has discarded (or at least left behind) its natural body in favor of downloading its mind into an artificial body (whether cyber, organic, or a combination). What kind of puppetry is this? This one is taking the human name for us too literally.
  • Forking:  the Puppeteer makes multiple, downloadable copies of its own mind. We approve of redundancy; our race has organized itself around this form of conservatism. But this one goes to far. It seeks to become a herd of one. That is not a proper herd. Who would go to the Back and become the Hindmost?
So, what are we missing? What would you add to the list?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Spindles: Origin Story III

Art by Juan Ochoa

The psychic scrolls in the archives of the Imperial Sibyls of the Red Moon record that the first Spindle appeared shortly after the death of Glorious First, the Imperial Sovereign who founded the Empire. In accordance with her wishes, Glorious First was buried within the vast Krellic machine labyrinth under the surface of Altair IV.

The whispering Anapa prepared her body for its final rest. They then awakened the Stasis Vault Apparatus, which would extend and preserve her remains throughout all time (eternal now, past, and present). Next, the Anapa cast the charms required to summon and bind the Horrors who would stand watch, hungry and aware, at the tomb of Glorious First throughout eternity. Once the spells were cast, the Horrors were always-already there.

Their tasks completed, each member of the Anapa delegation departed through one of the hundreds of Gates beneath the surface of the Eagle King's world. Each one returned to its own private sanctuary realm. There was once again silence on Altair IV.

But less than a day later, a psychic alarm reached the sibyls' monastery on Red Moon in orbit far above. The Imperial Sibyls, charged with maintaining a watch on that ancient fourth planet, learned of movement from within the tomb of Glorious First.

Her Stasis Vault Apparatus had yielded to something. The tomb's great Time Portal irised open. Something glided out of the tomb. It moved past the Horrors, and made its slow, gliding ascent to the world's surface.

The Sibyls descended and wait for it, magics and psychic sutras readied. At a surface shrine of The Charioteer - some  forgotten star-king or space-god - they welcomed the Spindle. The sibyls found the Spindle to be psychically null, its mind a cypher entirely closed to them. But it could speak, and they soon found a common tongue in which to converse.

They made their proper introductions.

The Spindle soon made its intentions known. It requested an audience with the new Imperial Sovereign on the Throne World of Altair III. The Sibyls assented to the request.

Their reason was simple: they recognized something about the Spindle. Its ocular aperture looked just like the large ruby ring-stone worn by Glorious First.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Gills Of Freeport

We're running a Fate of Freeport adventure at Con of the North this February, so I have been thinking about the setting a bit. One thing we know about Freeport is that it sits on a number of peridimensional Tidal Pools, interdimensional Nexus Points, and Weak Points between worlds. While the overall level of development in Freeport is similar to Early Modern Europe, multiple races (i.e., species-beings), make their home here, and the presence of odd or unusual races and peoples rarely raises an eyebrow. 

So as the locals say, "The Gills of Freeport are porous." Here is a 1d6-1d6 table representing some of the most common planar crossroads that may be open around the city (and in the surrounding lagoons) at any given time. I plan to use this table at least once in my convention game.

The Gills of Freeport Table

Roll 1d6-1d6 and consult the results below.
  • -5: At night, a patch of seaweed that clings to one of the prison Hulks lurking at the far edge of Freeport Bay extends deep inside the cavernous and deadly sea-labyrinth that guards the port of Imrryr, the Dreaming City.
  • -4: A secret stairwell in a salon frequented by students and rakes in the alchemist's haven of 17th Century Oxford opens onto a wine cellar of a similar establishment in the Freeport neighborhood of Cluster.
  • -3: The privy behind a gambling den in Freeport is contiguous with one behind a counting house in 17th Century Amsterdam.
  • -2: Weak points in the sewers under Freeport open into the much more extensive sewer and tunnel systems under the fortified town of Wermspittle. Due to inimical incursions of many different kinds (liquesent, rugose, fungular), Freeport is considering creating its own Sewer Militia patterned after that in Wermspittle.
  • -1: A dockside warehouse in Freeport opens into a similar structure in Haida Pakalla on the Southern Continent of Tekumel. The warehouse stinks and is filled with the miasma of dozens of Ahoggya stevedores who are working the docks of Freeport. Conflicts with Freeport's other stevedores are sure to erupt.
  • 0:  Nearby waters open into the Laguna de Terminos near the Mayan free port of Xicalango in the Yucatan.
  • +1: A pier in the harbor of Freeport opens onto a pier in the pirate town of Port Royal in Jamaica.
  • +2: A sail-mending house in Freeport opens directly into a similar establishment in the Arab city Basra, home of Sinbad the Sailor.
  • +4: A ladder running between the third and fourth floors of the lighthouse of Freeport bleeds into an external ladderwork on the airship mooring mast in the Lao royal steam city of Lan Xang. Everything  there is more advanced - even without magic.
  • +5: The Widow of Zheng is a miniscule volcanic island peak in the Serpent's Teeth. When the water around the peak begins to bubble and percolate, one the many terrible pirate fleets of the South China Sea can pass through a Sea Gate into Freeport Bay.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Deck of Fridays 7: A Solid Blow

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: A Solid Blow

We're using it today to create a location for +trey causey's Weird Adventures RPG, a pulp setting based in The City, a more fantastic D&Dified version of our beloved Gotha-, er, I mean New York City. I'll be running a Weird Adventures FAE game at Con of the North in February 2014. This location may just feature in the game...

The Monster Hall of Maxwell Geat

Every neighborhood in The City has its boxing halls. Some are private gentlemen's clubs with fine booze, betting, and cigars. Others are street corner neighborhood establishments with a Turkish bath next door. Still others are run by settlement houses as places to keep kids off the street and out of trouble. Of course, most of these joints still attract trouble. Lots of it: gangsters, nosy cops, gangs, and much worse.

But not all halls are created equal. Some are larger than life, special. There's the Starvation Army Boxing Hall where it's Salvation Street Soldiers get their training. There's Mama Mawl's Boxing Club, the only place in The City where girls and women are trained to box and face off in the ring against each other - a favorite destination for bohemians and aesthetes. 

And then there's Monster Hall. Its proprietor, Maxwell "Monster" Geat is a huge meat-slab of a man of Northern Ealderish stock - although he's rumored to have some Hillbilly Giant blood running in his veins... or something worse. He opened the Club several years after he returned home to The City from the Great War. 

How a giant like him could have survived in the trenches is anyone's guess. Geat is so that tall he should have presented a target that would be impossible to miss. But survive he did, and after a few years making a name (and a bundle) for himself fighting in the ring, he opened his own boxing club in the tough Hardluck neighborhood, just a few blocks from City Police Headquarters, at the junction of Hardluck, Yiantown, and Dead End. 

The club draws all types: off-duty (and sometimes on-duty) cops from Headquarters, people with Hell Syndicate connections, people in the trades, kids from the local gangs - and even upscale types from the Fate Exchange. Even with such an ecumenical crowd, there is a noticeable stir in the place when members of the Municipal Department of Animal and Pest Control (the so-called "Exterminators", the only City employees who dare enter The City's endless warren of sewers and tunnels) show up for a fight.  But show up the do, often parking their trucks in the alley behind Monster Hall.

There are a few rumors in circulation about Monster Hall:
  • The fights are unpredictable here. Scrawny teenagers have won fights against burly, veteran boxers. This attracts gamblers - especially the sort who enjoy placing very risky bets.
  • If he thinks you have moxie, Maxwell Geat may offer to train you in a special boxing technique: The Solid Blow. It's something he learned in the trenches. The Solid Blow doesn't knock people out. It breaks bones, and makes opponents bleed... inside.  
  • If you have enough money, you may be able to buy your way into special fights in the basement. The Exterminators often show up just for these. 
  • Maxwell Geat has a special water cooler in his locked back office. No one who has taken a drink there before a fight has ever lost that fight in the main ring.
  • He also has a habit. Geat injects himself with a potent alchemical substance called The Cane. It causes bruising, but it also makes the user feel invulnerable. A lot of the fighters in his stable - Geat's so-called Monsters - have started to dabble with it from time to time. Look for the skinny ones with the scabby arms. 
  • After every big fight, a kid leaves Monster Hall with a bundle. He gets a police escort up to Mama Mawl's Boxing Club, where the package gets delivered.

Monster Hall Aspects

  • High Concept: A boxing club that's a bookie's nightmare
  • Trouble: Cops and Hell Syndicate come together here
  • Fights above, fights below
  • A water cooler with a secret
  • Home of "The Solid Blow"

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Warehouse-Cathedral And The Quiet Zone


The Warehouse-Cathedral is what the university students have called the building for decades. The locals call it The Quiet Zone.

It's a Zone-in-one-building in a decaying Eastern U.S. city. A century ago, when the ribbon was cut by the City Fathers and County officials, it was called the Municipal Coal Repository. It was the county's central distribution center for coal, the supplier for households and industry alike in both the City, and its two adjacent subsidiary towns.

"A bit gothic" is how people describe it today, but back then people were pretty proud of it. The building was right in the middle of the industrial neighborhood of the town. It did the job it was designed to do for decades. Sure there were dust clouds from time-to-time, especially when big loads of coal were being transferred, but nobody complained too much. The Warehouse-Cathedral kept the city running.

But by the end of the 60s, many thins had changed. The industries of the zone were starting to fail, and demand for coal consequently decreased. The edges of the neighborhood started to fray into cheap student housing and antique stores.

Coal Bohemia.

So the City finally closed the Warehouse-Cathedral. There it stood abandoned, boarded-up, and quiet for most of the next decade. (Of course, kids used to break-in from time to time and mess around there. They called it "The Castle" for a while. People got high in the "Tower"; grudges got settled in the "Dungeon". These two location-names persist to this day and are legendary among local Stalkers.)

Things got even worse. By the 80s, the City's tax base had severely eroded. The downward spiral of unemployment and crime really kicked-off. Parts of the industrial zone became quite unsavory. Pedestrian tunnels connecting the neighborhood with adjacent ones became quite unsafe. And once the economy started to go bad, the cash-strapped City decided to sell off the Warehouse-Cathedral.

In the 80s and 90s, the Warehouse-Cathedral changed hands many times. First it was used for chemical storage, and then for experiments with crude robotics. In the depths of the Reagan era, the University used grant money to purchase the building for dubious military-sponsored psychotronics experiments. (The Soviets were so much more advanced in psychotronics, of course; and the Star Wars era was all about catching-up with and eventually surpassing the Soviets on every economic, technological, and military front.)

At the beginning of the Clinton era and shortly before the Visit, the University itself decided to sell off the Warehouse-Cathedral to a real estate developer. Anything to make a buck. Anything to avoid yet another capital campaign. Unfortunately, that developer soon ran afoul of the City's Planning Commission and Revenue Department, and ran off. The Warehouse-Cathedral's ownership became in doubt and its future again uncertain.

It was boarded-up once more. The City then put it on the EPA list for eventual clean-up.

Then one night, the Visit came from out of the midnight blue with a BOOM!  The BOOM didn't register on any sound level meters, but due to the Visit, people in several city blocks went deaf for good. The BOOM was accompanied by a blazing Silent Light.

All of it came from that one building. The light burst from every window of the Warehouse-Cathedral. It stayed that bright for days - day and night - and then suddenly guttered out.

The police quickly cordoned off the area. Things calmed down again. Those who could, moved out - especially if they had been away from the neighborhood at work, their children away at school, when their neighbors went deaf from the blinding light.

But the Silent Light has returned three times since the Visit. So a second blighted zone has wrapped itself around the Quiet Zone. There are many checkpoints, all designed to keep out the amateur "Stalkers" (i.e., university kids).

But the locals know a few ways in. Most of them run under the streets. And there are people at the University who will pay top dollar for things that the real Stalkers bring back out.  You'd be surprised how much one of the Chemistry professors will fork over for a jar of coal dust from the Quiet Zone... and there are others just as willing to pay.

"From the Zones" logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Zone Stalker in Eclipse Phase

I had a chuckle when I saw this character template in Transhuman: the Eclipse Phase Player's Guide. Looks like the creators of Eclipse Phase may have recently come back From the Zones themselves.

"From the Zones" logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

The Spindles: Origin Story II

Art by Juan Ochoa

The first Spindle was found spinning around its vertical axis in a tiny river bay on Kepler-22B. It was floating 0.5 M above the water, just offshore, where a small river dips slightly into the SW face of Hex 113.72 (Sector I-5).

The survey team from the Yrkoon Corporation wanted to capture the Spindle, and tried just about everything to get it to stop spinning.  A spindle has too many sharp edges to handle while it is in motion. The survey team  cast radio and laser signals at it. They struck it with bamboo-like reeds growing in the nearby jungles. Fired several 9 mm ballistic rounds at the device. (These were stopped by a force screen of some kind.) Finally, the survey team tried Screaming at the Spindle with a sonic amplification weapon. This also failed, although the Spindle's gemlike aperture began to glow an angry red.

Then one of the survey team cursed in frustration: "Leche!"

The device responded with a stream of Tagalog curses, and began firing some kind of beam weapon at each of the survey team members.

The party ran away, and then stumbled their way back into the jungle. Within a few minutes, they realized they were lost, recovered their bearings and proceeded back to camp. Only much, much later did the survey crew piece together that they had encountered something strange in the bay. The team discovered this by reviewing video footage of their encounter in Hex 113.72. They also found that their radio communications and computer systems had been hacked during their earlier trip to the river bay.

When the crew stealthily returned to the site of their earlier encounter, there was no longer any sign of the Spindle.

A century later, more Spindles arrived on Kepler-22B. They came on-board Bituin Commonwealth trade vessels from the Sultanate of Managdao. Apparently, the Sultanate had discovered the source of the mysterious devices, and by that point had learned a great deal about how to establish a symbiosis with them.

Sector I-5 logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Spindles: Origin Story I

Art by Juan Ochoa

This is the first in a series of posts on a new class of superscience artifact. The Spindles are used by the leaders of the military orders of the Empire, as well as by other august personages of high rank or special portfolio (hint, PCs!). The Spindles are also found in other regions of space and in other polities beyond the Empire. A detailed description of this class of artifacts' powers, as well as Fate Accelerated Edition mechanics, will follow the origin stories.

The Spindles were already ancient when humanity took its first steps toward the stars. It was during the era of the Glorious Sun-King of Amarna, the Radiant Gatemaster, that we discovered the Spindles. The records of the encounter are preserved in the sacred archives of The Banishers of Gloom, stored deep within Krellic vaults on the machine world of Altair IV. Indelible live records lie coiled within data-scrolls etched upon the fabric of space-time itself, as well as within more fragile texts scripted upon ancient papyrus scrolls.

During the Radiant Diaspora, the Order of the Banishers of Gloom* served as the Sun-King's advance force through the Amarna Gate.  The Banishers scouted among the worlds revealed through the Gate network. The Banishers had two missions for the Sun-King: they identified safe and abundant worlds for the Sun-King's subjects and allies to colonize. And they also located less hospitable worlds that were suitable places for the Lord of Amarna's enemies to be banished or entombed.

The Banishers of Gloom soon discovered that the universe was a very hostile place. Relatively few garden worlds existed. And most habitable worlds required intervention before they were truly safe for colonization. The galaxy was filled with secretive and recondite menaces such as the Anapa, as well as overt and terrible threats like the Tzitzimine, the Star Demons who endanger to every world that orbits a star - as well as preying on the darker and more distant orbits where the occasional bright light draws their kind like wolves to a stray lamb.

So the Order of the Banishers of Gloom set for themselves a third great task: to seek out and destroy all manner of inimical life forms and civilizations. The Banishers were quite successful in their efforts: one need only look at the records of the Star League's discoveries several thousand years later and see the numerous already-settled human worlds, as well as the many devastated and wrecked worlds with the last ruined relics of once prosperous alien civilizations.

One such alien world is recorded in the Banishers' archives. Its location and true name were redacted centuries ago. The world is known only as the House of Knives. When the Banishers arrived on that world, it had already been long-wrecked by nuclear war. The Banishers fought a subterranean war there against a malignant, telepathic insect race that used illusions, psychic tumors, and hell-eggs to defend their tunnels, warrens, and memory libraries against the merciless human invaders.

In spite of having abandoned most conventional military technologies in favor of their psychic powers, the aliens almost won the war. But deep beneath the burned, radioactive crust of the House of Knives, the Banishers of Gloom made a discovery. They unsealed the now-legendary Emerald Vault, and found thousands of the Spindles.

A few of the Spindles in the Emerald Vault clung unmoving to the exoskeletal limbs of the aliens' long-dead ancestors. But most of the Spindles were just floating there, spinning in mid-air around their vertical axis.

As if they had been waiting for the Banishers to arrive and liberate them.

A pact was made. Oaths of loyalty and mutual assistance were sworn. The Banishers and their new-found allies soon won the War of the House of Knives. And then the Spindles and Banishers went back through a Gate began exploring worlds together.

*In these latter times, the Company of the Banishers of Gloom traces its august lineage back to the ancient military-religious Order of the Banishers of Gloom thousands of years in the past. They claim it is the same order, one which has acted to protect humanity for thousands of years. This belief and identity is reflected in the Banishers' very language and modes of interaction with the Imperial Sovereign. Members of the order refer to the Imperial Sovereign by odd and archaic titles such as "Sun-King" and "Eagle of Amarna".