Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Edge Of The Zone

Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker"

At the Edge of almost every Zone is a cordon sanitaire. If militaries, paramilitaries, or corporations can seal off a Zone, they will. Your best bet in breaking through the cordon is a small, fast, quiet vehicle - and bribery.

Especially bribery.

There are Free Zones however. These are either in areas that are too geographically remote to seal off and patrol effectively, or are Zones that have gone entirely overlooked. This latter category is also likely to be geographically isolated. And if there isn't an overlay of civilization at the site of the Zone, there may not be enough oddness to the natural environment for a Zone to be detected - certainly not by satellite.

But never fear. This is where drones are your friend. If a Zone is suspected in an area, drones can be deployed to detect them. Once you lose a drone, you know that something is happening.  This is how the Institute and a number of corporations scout out Zones in new areas.

There are also "Edgeless Zones". Conventional Zones have an Edge; they are easy to imagine as a set of concentric circles with ever increasing intensity and weirdness as one progresses toward the center of the Zone. In contrast, the boundaries of Edgeless Zones fluctuate so wildly that it is usually difficult to tell where the Zone is at any moment. Imagine an amorphous, constantly shifting amoeba, rather than a series of concentric circles.

Even worse, at least one Edgeless Zone has become unfixed even in relative terms. It's migrating, and has already swallowed a few towns and moved on with a rather unpredictable, saltatory gambol. Behind it lies a path of destruction - and its inexplicable leavings.

Logo courtesy of Hereticwerks.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Approaching Kunlun Station

Art by Juan Ochoa

Time to get back to Strangers and Friends. You can see the original posts in the series here. Our goal with this project is to do a series of posts - one per Monday - profiling each of the people pictured in Juan Ochoa's illustration. We're using Mindjammer for this project, since I want to get familiar with that implementation of Fate Core.

Kunlun Station is the informal capital of Shining Lake Sectora Rimward region of space just beyond the Empire (the default space opera setting here at FATE SF). Kunlun Station was built by the R.U.R. over one million years ago, as part of an effort to resettle refugees fleeing the Core. The Kunlun system has one known slipknot connection, which leads to the R.U.R. industrial system of Fountain, deep within the Coreward region of R.U.R. space.

Arriving at Kunlun Station.  Pass the lonely gas giant with its entourage of moons, and go inward toward the sun. The only other object in the system is Kunlun Station. The station was built around a disk-shaped plate approximately 10 km wide on its rim side, and 1,000 km in diameter across the Plate. Most space vessels enter the station through one of the numerous ports on the rim, and then make their way to one of the numerous docking facilities deep within the station.

But the Station is far more than a plateworld. Indeed, from space that is the feature that is the station's least noticeable feature! The Mountain Zones, two huge mountain ranges, "rise" from either surface of the Plate. Each soars as much as 100 km above the Plates, with the highest mountains clustering toward the Plate's hub. The mountains are shielded by dome-like pressure curtains, which retain atmosphere within the two snow-capped mountainous hemispheres. A stable 1G is maintained throughout the upper and lower Mountain Zones, although gravity can be quite variable in strength and polarity once one is inside the Station itself. The casual observer notices rivers and streams and green mountain valleys. The careful observer sees the birds, mastodons and other megafauna, and the various small habitations, shrines, and monasteries.

Deep radar scans demonstrate that Kunlun Station has a central vacuity that is least 50 km deep and 50 km across - a cube, where the ancient "coin" had a missing square. The original structure must have been very similar to a number of ancient and long abandoned "Chinese coin" plateworlds scattered throughout the Near Rim. R.U.R. authorities state that this area is "sacred", and that they have never granted visitors access to the vacuity. But everyone who has been on the station for a while has a story to tell of an acquaintance, patron, or rival who has been there. Their reports vary considerably.

What else is inside the Station? Let's come in for a landing! Come back next time and we'll get oriented.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Deck Of Fridays 24: Made Up For It

Starchild with Stylus

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 Made Up For It. The card has a value of zero, so my guess is that the original intent behind this Aspect was "equivalence" or "a wash". But zero really isn't that exciting a standpoint, so let's get creative. Let's assume this is actually about appearance.

As in, "You're made up for it."  Here's a 4DF table of SF cosmetics and beauty supplies.

Essential SFnal Beauty Supplies Table

Every starport's Essential Beauty Supply franchise has just what you need. The very thing to get your face on. Or get it off. Stretch out that sagging integument. Swap out that old keratin for something with a bit more pizzaz.  Roll 4DF or draw a card from the Deck of Fate, and consult the appropriate outcome corresponding to the numerical result on the left.
  • -4: Envizion (TM). It's expensive. The ultimate anti-aging product, the Envizion chemical peel uses proprietary alien enzymes to dissolve and reshape wayward flesh. It is injected subdermally. Then you just wait - a few hours or a few days, depending on your physiology - and meditate.(But don't fall asleep.) Imagine the face or body you want to have. Usually that is what you get. Indefinitely.  Side effects, which can be avoided or minimized by retaining a licensed Envizion meditation coach, include Doppelganger Syndrome, in which the user begins to resemble a celebrity from the Signal - and Spiders from Mars Syndrome, which is just plain bad. 
  • -3: Stylus (TM). These wand-like programmable fabricator-applicators use triple effector beams* to apply cosmetics flawlessly. They can also be configured to custom print and apply nails. A favorite tool of assassins, the Stylus can produce nails and lip gloss with a range of toxic and hallucinatory affects.  
  • -2: COMpact (TM). This small programmable beauty kit includes a mirror, a nanofabricator, and a convenient reservoir for balms, creams, and serums. Visit any world with Signal, and the COMpact immediately hooks into the vine and downloads the latest data on cosmetic trends. Select preferences displayed over the "mirror" touchscreen, and then the nanofabricator sets to work producing the cosmetic options of your choice. A variety of applicator extensions are also available for this kit.
  • -1:  Freshwig (TM), Hair that Doesn't Fight You! The ultimate in reflexive personal defense, Freshwig comes in many varieties, textures, and colors. But the one thing that all Fleshwig have in common is that they won't give YOUR head a bad hair day. Your remote-controlled weaponized wig will keep you safe anywhere! No more worries about papparazzi, aggressive fans, or kidnappers! The monofilaments of the Freshwig cap read your thoughts, making it easy to trigger a range of effects, from piercing locks of hair to tentacular grasping strands, to the release of toxins.  
  •  0:  Spray-on-Face (TM), the Perfect Disguise (TM) for alien or human, living or dead. Sold in packets roughly the diameter of burrito wraps, each SoF is a 1 cm thick layer of programmable flesh. It can be shaped, textured, and colorized to make radical changes in facial features. Each application works for 24 hours - and more if you feed it. But don't wear one too long.
  • +1: Animate (TM), roll-on depilatory jellies. You'll be scaly for a few days (all over), as body hair, horns, and scales just flake off. But they're gone forever. 
  • +2: Reanimate (TM), programmable keratinizing jelly. Add a new layer of hair, horns, or scales in the colors and textures of your choice. 
  • +3: Sign Vine (TM), the Living Extensions that keep you connected.**  These hair extensions look like dreads, but they are plants that form symbiotic relationships with hair follicles. They range in color from rust red to dark green to brown and sustain themselves through photosynthesis. No one with Sign Vine is ever truly alone, because via scalp induction, the vine connect the user to the local Signal. 
  • +4: BounzTatz (TM). Popularized by spacers, these "living tattoos" range from animated flesh glyphs to three dimensional biological graft creatures.*** Want a parrot or a monkey on your shoulder - permanently? BounzTatz brings it.

*Iain M. Banks just keeps on giving.

**Inspired by Nnedi Okorafor's Zahrah the Windseeker.

***Inspired by Samuel R. Delaney's Nova and Babel-17.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hard To Be A God

"History of the Arkanar Massacre" (2013) by Alekseyi German

"That's the worst thing - to lose yourself in the role. Inside each one of us, the noble bastard struggles with the communard. And everything around us helps the bastard, while the communard is all alone - the Earth is thousands and thousands of parsecs away." Don Condor paused, stroking his knees. "That's how it is, Anton," he said in a firmer voice. "We must remain communards."
-From Hard to be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Next Weekend: Cosmic Patrol!

Next weekend, SF&F author and historian Carolyn Ives Gilman will be guest of honor at Diversicon. This is the most intimate and literary con in the Twin Cities scene. There has never been too much gaming at the con, but a few years ago I started running a late Saturday afternoon game that ties in to some of the themes of the convention. With one of the foremost scholars on the Lewis and Clark expedition as our guest of honor, I decided to run some deep space exploration themed Cosmic Patrol.

If you're coming to this con stop by and play! Cosmic Patrol is easy to learn and play. I'll be using a modified version of Cosmic Patrol's rotating Lead Narrator model at the con. We'll rotate scene narration so that everybody has a chance to direct part of the story, but I'll handle the combat. Should be fun to see where people take the story! 

Here are the adventure details:

Cosmic Patrol: Rescue the Lewis and Clark! Saturday afternoon, 4-6 PM on August 2, in the RailRoad Lobby at Diversicon. A easy to learn, pulpy SF roleplaying game inspired by the works of our living & posthumous Guests. John Everett Till, gamemaster. Rules will be taught, and the game uses a rotating storyteller model. We'll take turns moving the story forward!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawning Star Playtest

Eric Gilbertson's Wolf -species character "Spot"

Last week our Thursday Night Group did a playtest of the chargen rules for the Fate Core reboot of Dawning Star RPG. We participated in the Kickstarter campaign for this game back in the fall, based on having liked the d20 edition of the game. While I never had an opportunity to play or run the d20 version, the game had great art and a very interesting multi-species space opera setting with all the action happening in one solar system.

For the reboot of the game, there are even more species in-system as recent arrivals onboard the evacuation ship Uyti. The playtest chargen package includes a number of those species, which range from the fairly humanoid to the really weird. (Remember the Horta from Star Trek? Here we have a rock eating species that defecates precious minerals.)

It's no accident that many species have been drawn to the Helios system, where Dawning Star is set. An ancient star gate network brings ships here from many different systems. In fact, the system is riddled with alien artifacts, and there is a lively trade in the relics of the Ancients.

Our players decided to tie the Ancients' relics - and in particular, the competitive archaeological and relic hunting ventures resulting from the widespread knowledge that such relics exist - into their two Campaign Issues. The current and impending campaign issues they selected were:
  • We must destroy the secrets of the Ancients for everyone's good.
  • Ancient artifacts coming to life.
The players decided to create a group of radical demilitarizers/armed disarmers or anarcho-luddites who seek out and destroy the Ancients' relics before the PCs contemporaries can use them as weapons. So they hunt for relics in order to destroy them, as well as ambushing others' relic hunting and smuggling operations.

This is a group bound for trouble. A party of space asshole archaeologists including:
  • A Wolf, a Vargyr-like alien species. Eric's character, as depicted above, is also the cook for the group. In one hand, Spot holds a chainsaw; in his other hand, a chocolate chip cookie tray. Eric is a dog guy, what can I say?
  • An Elgie, a lemur-like race that are better with tech than most of the other races. Rachel made a really cute sketch of her character. If she gives me permission, I'll include it in a subsequent post.
  • A Velin named "Fabian", the most pretentious name possible for a member of the humanoid indigenous race on Eos. Bob created Fabian as the "Velin Indiana Jones". He uses his psychic Red Truth affinity to find artifacts and destroy them.
  • Speaker to Anarchists, a Kzinti. Speaker is the muscle of the group, but he also has a great Edge: a working stasis box. I created him to test the new species creation rules in Dawning Star. Since first edition D&D people have been creating Kzinti for their own RPGs. Why stop now?
All-in-all, we had fun creating our characters, who would be very fun to play in a campaign. We would get into a lot of trouble.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dawning Star Playtest

My gaming group is scheduled to do a playtest of the chargen rules for Dawning Star tonight.  They have added a ton of new aliens for the Fate edition of the setting. We'll have an update on how things went after the playtest.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Guillotine Ray


The Guillotine Ray is designed for revolutionary self-defense. A fifth generation, artificially intelligent, Year Zero-class juridical weapon, the manta-ray shaped device is about the size of a frisbee. It gently hums and hovers, following its assigned companion: usually a Procurator, Red Guard, or another individual tasked with rooting out reactionaries and revisionists.

Because each Guillotine Ray is artificially intelligent, it is designed to respond to subtle cues from its comrade handler. At the proper signal, a Guillotine Ray's twin effector beams strike out, decapitating its counterrevolutionary target. Collateral damage is common, but most Guillotine Rays aren't particularly fastidious about this kind of excess. It inspires the masses and encourages revolutionary vigor.

Originally, the  Guillotine Rays were mass-produced with dark grey exteriors. However in these times, Guillotine Rays sport quite colorful designs, rather like the jeepneys of pre-Diasporic Earth. Many have also adopted a colorful nom de guerre, such as Enrage, Facilitator, Vehicle for Change, Razoress, Horse Eater, Danton, Gonzalo, Sparrow, or Sword of Justice.

A few Guillotine Rays have also gone wild type, pursuing their own radical political agendas.  These are often collectively known as The Steel Generals. They are always spoiling for a good fight.


Guillotine Ray
Banksian juridical drone (neutral)

  • High Concept: Year Zero-class juridical weapon 
  • Trouble: There's collateral damage in my wake 
  • Aspect: Root out reactionaries and revisionists
  • Aspect: "You're going to come out of this a head shorter"
  • Aspect: Liberty, equality, fraternity
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: 0
  • AG Mobile - Guillotine Rays are small and thin, and use AG to hover. When they need to squeeze through a tight space, they can turn sideways, and hover on through. 
  • Decapitation Strike - Take +2 to make a Flashy Attack using twin effector beams.
  • Telekinesis - Guillotine Rays can use their Flashy Approach to Overcome an Obstacle by using a single effector beam to move a physical object.

Thanks to Rachel Kronick for inspiring the name and idea, and to the late Iain M. Banks for providing the hardware and software. The final execution is entirely my own responsibility.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Overkilled

The Overkilled. No one likes that term, but it has stuck as a general descriptor for those unfortunates cursed with unlife after being struck by an Annihilator beam. They are a constant danger for those exploring space hulks, abandoned bases, and ruined cities recently devastated by war. Wherever there is one of the Overkilled, there are undoubtedly many, many more.

Fury and relentlessness personified, the Overkilled thirst for the flesh of the living.  Some have speculated that the Annihilator animates the Overkilled by activating latent infections by nanites or prions. Their bodies undergo a number of changes including a general weakening of the integrity of their integument, and a diamond-sharp hardening of teeth and nails.

The Overkilled bite, gobble, claw, and tear at the flesh of their victims, as if consumed with hunger. But very little flesh and blood makes it down their gullets. Indeed, it often seems like more matter is leaving their bodies than getting in: foul black and green ichors pour from their mouth and nostrils, and from suppurating pustules on their chest, face, and extremities. This ichor contaminates their garments and the spaces around them - it is the surest sign that the Overkilled may be nearby.

The Overkilled are almost impossible to detect using sensors. Indeed, without the presence of living flesh to prey upon they are almost entirely quiescent. Are they conscious? Do they have memories or will? Who knows. The Nexialists claim that the Overkilled are a product of "supercivilization" - which says everything and explains nothing.

The R.U.R. contend that the Overkilled are an infinitesimal of the great Anti-Consciousness lurking in the galactic core. They say they have seen this contagion before, many times. It's a sign of things to come.


In Cosmic Patrol, treat the Overkilled as mooks: Cbt D8, Special: Ichor Splash D10, EvElse D6; Armor 1, Health 1; Bite/Claw 2; Equipment: Tattered garments, green or black ichor.


The Overkilled
Undead humans (inimical)

  • High Concept: Furious and relentless undead
  • Trouble: Attack without strategy
  • Aspect: Unreasoning hatred of life
  • Aspect: Undetectable except in the presence of life
  • Aspect: Disgusting ichor and suppurating pustules
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: 0 
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +3
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Green/Black Ichor - See future posts for the affects of these contaminants.
  • Sharp Teeth and Claws - Because the Overkilled have diamond sharp teeth and claws, they take +2 to their Attack when an opponent is not wearing armor.