Friday, May 30, 2014

Deck of Fridays 21: Neutral Zones

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF! Each week (more or less) since the release of the Deck of Fate, we have made 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: Neutral Discovery. It calls to mind the concept of Neutral Zones. So without further ado, we have a brief quote from the 17th Imperial Sovereign, who is known as the The Shadow Cast By All Suns.


Nature abhors a Neutral Zone. All Neutral Zones are semi-permeable, riddled with slipknots, and layered upon with the positive and negative enumerations of hyperspace. The most fleeting of political boundaries, all such zones of exclusion eventually collapse inward upon themselves. 

Each one is a potent symbol of Defeat, of a battle or war that has been lost: a "partial victory" in the parlance of today's generals and political consultants.

Indeed, the Neutral Zones are a plague upon the body politic of our Empire. Such zones are a hindrance to advance of the Imperial Extents, and to the march of justice and friendship among the worlds. Within Our Body, they are vacuoles formed to contain an irritant, sanctuaries for inimical species and rogue Minds. Such spaces invariably become havens for pirates, privateers, smugglers, and slavers, and places of unwitting and deadly discoveries. 

Beyond Our Body, they are the space of non-confrontation with greater enemies: a haven for espionage and covert fleet maneuvers, planetary bush wars, fraught discoveries, the birthplace of pocket empires and border kingdoms, and initiatives toward diplomacy and collaboration. 

Each Neutral Zone also gives us pause for reflection, even as it halts our Fleets and Legions. An ancient Earth philosopher once wrote that an Empire's advance necessitates a hollowing at its center. An Empire produces its own negation. As we incorporate the barbarians beyond our Neutral Zones, what indeed becomes of us?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wizard's Eye

Wizard's Eye (Divination, Cost, Permanent, Requires one other Divination spell):  A common casting on worlds that still have a natural environment, Wizard's Eye reshapes the matter of a living creature, creating an ocular organ 2" in diameter. This spell may be cast on any plant, fungus, or animal with sufficient mass to support an eye of that size. To cast the spell, the caster rolls WIS + 2 vs. the target's CON.

As long as the caster remains within 10 km of the ocular organ, the caster receives a continuous visual feed from the Wizard's Eye. If cast on a sessile organism, Wizard's Eye caster receives a feed from a particular location. At the caster's will, the eye can move within its socket to observe the local environment from different perspectives. If cast on a mobile organism, the caster receives a roving view of any areas through which the host organism passes.

This spell can be cast multiple times, allowing a multi-perspective view of a single location, or a series of feeds from different locations. Of course this can become very confusing and distracting for the caster, leading to all manner of interesting Compels. The feed from even one Wizard's Eye is also enough to prevent the caster from sleeping.

Variants of this spell exist that create ocular organs in non-living matter such as plastic, steel, or concrete. The Nexialists claim to have generated a massive Wizard's Eye in the photosphere of a star. Their assertion has provoked considerable paranoia, as well as a great deal of skepticism, since the costs of such as casting would be daunting to say the least.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Bamboo General

"The Bamboo General" didn't make an appearance in Kausao City until The Miners Rebellion of SF 65. In the clashes that followed the brutal repression of the miners' march, a small group of workers broke off from the multitude and invaded one of the exclusive gardens belonging to one of the Council of Nine. They chopped down a number of bamboos and used them to fashion deadly weapons based on an ancient Tuyang model.

A hand cannon, the Bamboo General is stuffed with stones, broken pottery shards, broken glass or shards of obsidian. The weapon is charged with an explosive powder derived from red jade. The weapons used in The Miners Rebellion were one-shot affairs, as the bamboo is rarely sturdy enough to withstand more than one explosive discharge. However, bamboo grown in proximity to green jade deposits is of particular value. When used to build hand cannons, green jade infused bamboo retains its utility indefinitely.


The Bamboo General (Device)
Function Aspect: Red Jade Hand Cannon

  • ExceptionalAttack prevents target from checking a stress box to reduce a hit
  • Harmful 1
  • Limited - One shot weapon; then you need a scene to make a new one
  • Situational - Only effective on a target in the same or an adjacent zone

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Happy Warriors

House Centipede Closeup by Kevincollins123

The Happy Warriors is a Glissendo-speaking species found throughout the Empire and far beyond the Imperial Extents. Members of this species are 2-3 meters in length, with dozens to hundreds of legs. The head of a Happy Warrior has two compound eyes, and several specialized mouthparts for biting prey, speaking Glissendo, and manipulating control systems. Happy Warriors have a second and very recent communication structure on their abdomens, which allows them to converse using human and near-human languages.

Happy Warriors can move with blinding speed. Their legs are also terrible piercing weapons. Many of their species can expectorate poisonous or hallucinogenic venom, creating a toxic haze in their immediate environment. The Happy Warriors are well-adapted for combat in a variety of environments - although they freely admit to feeling most in their element when fighting in jungles and other rough terrain, as well as underground.

The species fight in units of 100-1,000 members called Armed Multitudes. But make no mistake; the Happy Warriors are not a hive mind. Every member of the species is an individual, and every one strives for personal excellence in all of their affairs. Each individual is also mild projective empath. Legionaries who have fought at their side report that the affect is exhilarating and joyful, like being carried forward on a bouyant wave of death.

Many of the Legions of the Imperial Sovereign have incorporated one or more Armed Multitudes of the Happy Warriors into their organization. Each Armed Multitude bonds with a particular human commander. This bond is unbreakable; each commander has been repeatedly showered by a cloud of the Happy Warriors' loyalty pheromones. (This can become an issue in the case of a defection or demotion of a commander, but is never an issue in the case of a commander's death: in that case an Armed Multitude will bond to a new commander.)

One other important feature of the Happy Warriors is that they never leave their fallen human comrades behind.  The Happy Warriors always go to extreme lengths to recover the bodies of human comrades-in-arms. They use these bodies to lay the eggs of their young.


The Happy Warriors
Intelligent Myriapods (friendly)

  • High Concept: Joyful member of an Armed Multitude
  • Trouble: Loyal to one person
  • Aspect: Strive for excellence in all things
  • Aspect: Jungle and underground fighter
  • Aspect: Never leave fallen humans behind
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +1
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +3
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Every Leg A Weapon: Take +2 to Forcefully Attack an opponent in the same or an adjacent Zone, using multiple legs as piercing weapons.
  • Exoskeleton: Take +2 to Forcefully Defend against physical attacks from piercing weapons.
  • Joyous Empaths: Take +2 to Flashy Approach to Create an Advantage in battle, psychically boosting the morale of comrades and allies.
  • Spit Poisons: Take +2 to Flashy Approach to Create an Advantage in immediate or an adjacent Zone by creating a Poison Cloud or Hallucinogenic Cloud.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sa Amulet

Sa Amulet

The Sa Amulet is a sign of the shepherd and therefore a powerful protective device. Whether worn by itself or featured as a detail in figurines depicting the dwarf-god Bes, or the monstrous and chimeric protector goddess Taweret, this hieroglyph provides its bearer with a defense against threats to life and rebirth.

The Sa Amulet is often used to protect the bodies of those who have cast the spell Transmigration. While the mind of the caster visits another star, the amulet provides passive protection against all threats to the life of the caster's body.

To use the amulet, the bearer recites a short prayer to the protective deity of their choice. The PC's player spends 1 Fate Point. The amulet then protects the caster's body with a mystical force field, providing a passive +2 to Defend against attacks that do physical stress. If the caster's body is attacked, the PC will be aware of the danger and may Attack or Defend by casting spells remotely using the amulet as a channel of force.

Physical stress that makes it past the Sa Amulet (and any other defensive spells cast to defend the traveler's body) are incurred by the traveler's body. However, attacks directed against the mind actually pass through the Sa Amulet and directly Attack the mind of the traveler.

Once activated, the amulet's protective effect is Permanent until it is dispelled, the traveler is Taken Out (through Physical and/or Mental Consequences), or the traveler offers a Concession which is accepted by the attacker.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Protection Of The Body In Transmigration

Taweret amulet of protection

It is imperative to protect of the body of a caster who is using a Transmigration spell. While the mind travels to another star, it leaves a defenseless body behind it. More than one caster of Transmigration has suffered the misfortune of having their body riddled with arrows or consumed by hyena, marooning their spirit on another world or - still worse - lost forever wandering the enumerations of hyperspace.

Several different means have been devised to protect the body from physical and psychic harm. Some measures provide only partial and/or short-term protection, such as the physical protection of a body by a sentry device. Others provide long-term protection, extending life and preserving the body through either medical or mystical means.

Techniques of protection include:
  • Spindles granted as signs of office to important commanders or emissaries are self-aware and very capable of keeping a protective watch over their masters for at least several days.
  • A variety of mystical amulets such as the one depicted above can provide physical and spiritual protection to the body of the travelling soul. The best of such amulets were devised by the Anapa in ancient times. Many have been recovered from the long-abandoned sanctuaries of that dreaded race. These objects are often heirlooms passed from one sorcerer to another. Some are genuinely sorcerous in character; others are based on the advanced nanotechnology of the Anapa.
  • An autodoc or portable surgical suite can be used to sustain the body of a traveler indefinitely.
  • A variety of sarcophagi and mausolea have been devised by the Anapa to magically encapsulate and preserve the life force of a Sleeper. The trick with these device-locations is to ensure that the specific wards set on them allow the return of a travelling soul. A secondary risk is that the Anapa will return and harvest the body prematurely, while the mind of the traveler is still away. Such bodysnatching occurs from time to time because the bodies of travelers are excellent raw material for the creation of new golems and autonoma. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Zina Deretsky's photo of fast spinning Altair

Transmigration (Planar, Cost, Per Scenario, Permanent, Requires three other Planar spells): A favorite spell of Imperial Messengers, special retainers, and emissaries, this casting is also known as the Magpie Bridge. Transmigration hurls the caster's mind across the stars to a willing fleshy receptacle on Altair III, the Imperial Throneworld. Many variants of this spell exist, each specifying a particular stellar destination. In this case, the star of Altair must be visible to the caster's naked eye at the time the spell is cast.

The caster's mind rises into space as if borne on the wings of an eagle. From orbit, the soul transitions into hyperspace. The mind rises through the positive enumerations of hyperspace, finally reaching its crowning enumeration. The soul then travels for an indeterminate period, and often endures a series of tests* until finally reaching its point of arrival, Altair III.

The mind then descends to the Golden Sphere. It inhabits a willing and waiting Receptor, one of the psychically receptive special members of Legio XII Golden Eagle of Amarna, the legion of personal bodyguards who attend the Imperial Sovereign at all times. Receptors are shirtless; at the moment of Arrival, one will drop to their knees. The Golden Eagle tattoo on the legionary's back and shoulders will begin to glow and flutter, as if its wings are flapping. As the glow subsides, the Receptor may begin speaking in tongues, as the mind makes its way through the language centers of the Receptor's brain. Shortly thereafter, the mind takes complete control of the Receptor's body, until the spell is lifted.

See also Protection Of The Body In Transmigration, and The Sa Amulet as an example of a protective device.

*The GM may draw cards from the Deck of Fate to determine the nature of these tests, which may then be roleplayed with the involvement of the other players as various kinds of allies and adversaries.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Deck Of Fridays 20: Top Of The World

Welcome to the 20th episode of DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF! Each week since the release of the print edition of the Deck of Fate*, we have made 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: Top of the World, a card with a +3 value. This seems appropriate for celebrating our 20th post in the series!

Top of the World makes me think of space elevators which are often colloquially referred to in SF as beanstalks. So today we have a table on Beanstalks that you can use to flesh out one or more details of a setting which includes one.

Jack's Table

Roll 4DF and consult the corresponding result below.
  • -4: Monsters (Horta, Dholes, deviant Morlocks, rogue 'bots, etc.) are gnawing at the beanstalk's roots
  • -3: The beanstalk is ruined and abandoned, and has fallen into a tangle planetside
  • -2: A literal Tower of Babel, the beanstalk's populations are culturally and linguistically balkanized and frequently in conflict with each other 
  • -1: Jim Crow to the stars - the beanstalk's amenities (transport tubes, hotel and dining spaces, etc.) are segregated according to some discriminatory scheme (humans vs. uplifts and robots, for example)
  •  0: The beanstalk is ruined and abandoned, but still upright - and ready for exploration and plunder
  • +1: A typical beanstalk: a spaceport at the apex, a commercial-industrial city at the base
  • +2: The beanstalk is the hub of a thriving interplanetary or interstellar civilization 
  • +3: The beanstalk has numerous zones/rings of habitation, baroquely stratified with ascending tech levels (low at the base, astonishingly high at the apex)**
  • +4: Gods (Vorlonic aliens, transhumans, etc.) live at the apex, and lord over all below

*With some exceptions.

**As in Alastair Reynolds' Terminal City.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Brand Jade Anubian

The Anubian Ambassador now has her copy of Jadepunk, which she ordered from the Reroll Store six days ago and received directly from the POD fabrication site today. The Anubian has learned to be wary of big heavy books ever since the "Starblazer Incident"; she thinks this one poses substantially less of an existential threat than her other current project by Piketty.

The Little Lady was surprised to see that the font is sepia-toned; she likes cuttlefish, so this pleased her. The Ambassador also reflected that this game could be used in other ways. She suggested that I could to run a setting like "Far West" using Jadepunk. Indeed, the Assets rules could be readily adopted to emulate many different kinds steampunk era inventions, whether or not they are fueled by jade. She suggested that the game could be used for all sorts of Westerns, as well as for martial arts dramas influenced by the Westerns.

Her most extraordinary idea was to go forward in time a bit and set an alt-Jadepunk game in the mid-20th Century. "I have such vivid memories of the Shanghai People's Commune during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Back then there were so many factions in China; all of them were armed. You never knew what would happen next. The intrigue! The folly! Imagine a campaign set during that turbulent era! Of course, most of the Aristocrats in that era were Party members. Or Scoundrels, pretending to be Aristocrats. Oh, the possibilities!"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Machine Weeds

Dandelion seed head - taken in Southwest Ohio. Photo by Greg Hume

Machine weeds crop up everywhere: lowtech worlds, industrial worlds, dead worlds, orbitals, and starships. Machines weeds may be big or small, and they are often biomimetic. Look for extraneous structures of all sorts cluttering the built environment. Many resemble beanstalks, power or data cords, or vines. Others resemble antennae, collector dishes, or keypads, displays, and control consoles.

A disseminative technology, machine weeds broadcast their seedlings from a variety of metallic and plastic articulations that resemble flowers, seed pods, shower heads, or strainers. These broadcast structures are often well-hidden well from prying eyes, lurking behind a photocopier or other control console, seeding inside an air handling system, or deep within the plumbing.

As long as there are machines nearby - even broken or primitive ones - machine weeds' living kipple will grow and spread. Machine weeds ablate existing structures in the built environment to add to their biomass. They can grow anywhere that there is metal or plastic, choking out functional machinery, draining power systems, often causing functional structures and mechanisms to weaken and collapse.

However, an array of machine weeds can sometimes express highly useful and novel functionalities. Such benefits are usually shortlived. Unless pruned and contained, a patch of machine weeds manifesting such emergent properties will progress toward a new, and destructive round of dissemination. Since this is a constant risk in proximity to machines, people working near them are advised to check their suits and equipment for extraneous buttons and tags - frequently.


Machine Weeds
Biomimetic replicators (inimical)

  • High Concept: Biomimetic weed machines
  • Trouble: What breaks machines hurts us
  • Aspect: Our feeding breaks down machines
  • Aspect: Sharp edges and brittle stems
  • Aspect: Flower in dark places
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2 
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: +1
  • Quick: 0
  • Sneaky: +3
  • Bloody Patch - Take +2 to Forceful Approach to Attack a living target with plastic and metal flails
  • Disseminate - Take +2 to Sneaky Approach to Create an Advantage by contaminating an adjacent Zone
  • Emergent Properties - Take +2 to Flashy Approach to Create an Advantage by revealing a novel functionality
  • Failure Mode - Take +2 to Forceful Approach to Attack an adjacent machine, including robots, androids, and cyborgs

Note: A patch of machine weeds takes up one or more Zones. The patch has one Consequence for every Zone it has colonized.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Deck of Fridays 19: Clear Path

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: Clear Path, a card with a 0 value. A scenario seed comes to mind.


It was a tough punching through the orbital sentries around Piranesi VII. There were thousands of them orbiting this dead world, waiting for intruders. We used dropships loaded with green troops to get their attention, while the carrier and its three escorts picked off the satellites. 

Clear path. 

We were happy that the three dropships with veteran troops made it down there. Of course, each dropship was sent to different points planetside. The mission was simple: find out if this planet had any inhabitants - really, anything of worth.

The atmosphere appeared to be breathable, but we kept our helmets on. We're not Omega House for sure, but we're not just stupid grunts either. Well-armed, we disembarked, and started our surveys and sweeps.

The entire planetary surface was a built environment. Ruins everywhere. Below that surface were galleries, stairways, more layers of structure. Lots of open space. Clear paths in all directions. 

Too many of them, in fact. The pings on deep radar show that this is a shellworld. Some of the deeper layers are still pressurized. They have exotic atmospheres, and things down there are moving.

We're going to be here for a while. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nine Novelists: What I've Read Before

Gankutsouo - see the Alfred Bester entry below

For my Nine Novels project, I will be reading a mix of classic SF authors from the 1950s. I thought I'd share a bit about what I have read by whom from the author list. Here goes:

  • Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth - I have not read anything by them before, so The Space Merchants will be my first.
  • Theodore Sturgeon - I have not read More Than Human or anything else by Sturgeon. I hear a lot of positive things about him though from other folks in the Second Foundation reading group.
  • Leigh Brackett - I read a couple of Brackett's Skaith novels, back when I was a kid.  But I haven't read The Long Tomorrow. Brackett wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes BackThe Big Sleep and other films. She's the only female author in this two volume collection. The companion essay for her novel is by Nicola Griffith, another author I admire.
  • Richard Matheson - Every October/November the Second Foundation reads a horror author, and this Fall I read I Am Legend, the wonderful SF vampire novel that inspired three different movies. This Fall, I also read some of his short stories, which I really enjoyed. I am looking forward to The Shrinking Man, which I haven't read yet.
  • Robert A. Heinlein - Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky was one of the first SF novels I read, and a definite inspiration for Project Generations. I read - and loved - Starship Troopers as a kid, and read it again about a year ago. Good stuff. I also read some of the Lazarus Long stories when I was a kid. I recently read Stranger in a Strange Land for the first time, which I thought was pretty silly and superficial for something that supposedly offered a blueprint for an alternative to mainstream society. When it comes to sex and sexuality, Heinlein is no Samuel R. Delaney. I have not read Double Star, and have heard nothing about it. But I am looking forward to this one. Heinlein frequently infuruates, but he is always interesting. And no, I am not a fascist or one of their weak-willed siblings, a libertarian.
  • Alfred Bester - I am a big B5 fan, so you would think I would have read Bester by now. I mean really, what Marxist or anarchist hasn't? I am really looking forward to reading The Stars My Destination, which is an SF remake of the Count of Monte Cristo. Or rather the first SF remake of the Count of Monte Cristo, since we more recently we have also recently seen another SFnal remake, the beautiful anime Gankutsuou.
  • James Blish - I have not read A Case of Conscience, but Spock Must Die! was one of the first SF books I ever read. After Blish had the Organians deprive the Klingons of spaceflight for a good long while, I believe Paramount decided it needed some content control for Star Trek novelizations. I am looking forward to reading this classic work.
  • Algis Budrys - I have not read Who? or anything else by this author, who has the most mysterious name on the list. I've never heard anyone I know recommend or discuss his work either. So I have no idea what to expect with this one.
  • Fritz Leiber - Another Second Foundation favorite, I have read a fair amount of Leiber, including The Wanderer, the first multiperspective disaster novel (about a Big Dumb Object), and some of his short stories (mostly Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser ones) so I am really looking forward to reading The Big Time.

9 Months, 9 Novels, 9+ Posts

We're starting a new project this May at FATE SF. We now have a copy of the two volume slipcased American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe. This Library of America edition is linked to a special website with guest commentaries by several luminaries of contemporary SF, focusing on the works in the series.

Our plan is to read one novel per month, proceeding in order through the two-volume set. We will write at least one blog post on each novel, finding something suitably Fatey to carry-on about with each book.

The project officially begins after the Second Foundation reading group this coming Sunday, which is focused on the work of feminist and Marxist SF author Eleanor Arnason. That's because I need to read some more of Eleanor's Big Mama Stories before this weekend's gathering.

The first of the Nine Novels (as I am tagging this series of posts) is The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time, so I'm looking forward to starting the project!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Your Singularity Has Been Forecasted

FATE SF has been a bit quiet over the last week. I have been out of town for work. One of the really cool things about my job is that I am a licensed facilitator of a strategic exploration tool called the Implications Wheel. I get to help people scout out the future. No time machine is involved; just a time-tested method, some software, and interested people.

The I-Wheel has been around for 30+ years. It helped IBM identify the PC as a potential "division maker" product line. It helped another company identify a product which could have killed its customers. With a stunning degree of accuracy, the Implications Wheel identified the majority of features of e-readers more than 10 years before these products began to hit the market.

As the video above describes, Joel Barker's Implications Wheel helps people scout out the future with a structured process that taps into the wisdom of crowds. It can be used to explore almost any kind of change. It generates "trees" of possible implications (including conflicting ones) each of which is scored for its likelihood and desirability from a particular point of view selected for the exploration. The result is a color-coded map of implications, and the relationships between them.

One of the questions that has come up for me time and again with the I-Wheel is the question of the Singularity. Could one or more technological innovations occur in quick succession and create a future so radically unpredictable that people on the cis-side of the change cannot predict what life would be like on the trans-side of the change?

In transhumanist SF, and in related fandoms, gaming, and advocacy, the concept of the Singularity is often taken as a given. This is in spite of the fact that some of the movement's pioneers such as J.D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon, and Cordwainer Smith didn't work with this concept at all.

Which brings me back to the I-Wheel. Explorations using the Implications Wheel push in the opposite direction from the Singularity assumption. That is, they assume that any future state resulting from a change CAN be anticipated if you use the right method and have sufficient time* to explore the implications of a change carefully. If you cannot anticipate the results of a change, well, that's on you.

*A few days for set-up, and a couple days for facilitation.