Saturday, October 31, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "K" is for Krith

Krith are giant spiders that glide through space on membraneous wings. They unfold space, emerging from cracks, fissures, and anomalies in spacetime when they sense the proximity of intelligent quarry. They have also been encountered emerging from black gates and otherwise apparently inactive hyperspace nodes

After entering normal space, krith move rapidly toward their prey. They don't cast true physical webs, instead entangling their targets within hypersnares: unstable, magnetically and gravitically "sticky" tangles of chaotic spacetime. Ships attacked by these creatures suffer drive accidents and other sudden and disastrous systems excursions.

Krith are able to phase their way inside of most ship hulls to prey directly on crew. The only hulls with protection against krith incursions are found on a handful of ancient vessels manufactured during the Archaic Oikumene. These ships have ceramic hulls incorporating various types of exotic matter.

Interestingly, the spaceborn Voidgliders have many legends about these creatures, and some among their kind claim to know ways to call the space spiders out of the void. More than a few Voidglider elders have wicked scars and uncanny scrimshaw fetishes attesting to direct encounters with the krith.

Young and ambitious Vokun lordlings often seek to demonstrate their virility and prowess by mounting expeditions to hunt krith. Such harpoon hunts rarely end well, and resentful Voidglider scouts often return home masterless after these deadly expeditions.

The krith are the creation of Charles L. Harness, and come from his classic weird space opera, The Ring of Ritornel (1968).

Monday, October 26, 2015

More Of The Bomoth Jook

The Bomoth Jook never stops, it just keeps playing on and on to the breakka breakka dawn. Here are a few more tunes to get you in the mood, ones that really bring home the range of music that the Bomoth are capable of delivering.

We begin with a song for those who love automata:

Then one of my favorites from Old Earth:

Lastly, an acquired taste, the other kind of oft-banned space opera:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "J" is for Jook


The giant blue caterpillaroid Bomoth have powerful lungs and a prodigious ability to imitate human (and alien) voices and musical instruments. Their syncopated, improvisational Bomoth Jook has made them the stars of musical venues high and low among the Strange Stars.

Here's just a few of the tunes that make up the Jook:

I used "Hello Dolly" in a Strange Stars game at a convention!  Did my best Louie Armstrong imitation ever, in fact.

Here's another popular one:

And now that your feeling your hyperspace nodes:

Nodes in hand, one more for the road:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "I" Is For Index

The Index is list of memes and memeplexes that the Instrumentality of Aom has determined are harmful to sophonts. In systems under their sway, the Instrumentlity monitors the local Metascape for these toxic memes in order to isolate, contain, and remove them from circulation.

While the Instrumentality is a proselytizing religion with expansionist ambitions, its syncretic practice of local orthodoxy emphasizes the importance of incorporating local beliefs and traditions rather than eliminating them. The Instrumentality is far more concerned with indexing and eliminating memeplexes that challenge Instrumentality doctrine or authority, undermine authority and order more generally, or promote anarchy, terror, and deviance.

Memeplexes on the Index vary from system to system, but most local instances of Index activity target:
  • Aurogov personal improvement software, Aurogov Reps, and associated virtualities
  • Information and virtualities featuring the Zurr, their artifacts, and beliefs
  • Information on the Algosian torture cult, and the virtualities and clubs they frequent
  • S'ta Zoku (Star Folk) meet-up and party virtualities
  • Software for rapid evolution of radically new clades - particularly those that subvert chordate anatomy or sophont cognitive integrity
  • The Eden Seeker heresy 
  • Star charts featuring space anomalies
  • Anything on the Necromancers
  • Catalogs and descriptions of Tenebraean artifacts
  • Information on The Slavers, and the virtualities and habitats that serve as their slave markets
  • Information on the Sisterhood of Morrgna, their world, associated devices, and practices
  • Information on Sirius A and B, Sraad music, poetry, and intership communications
  • Dramas sensationalizing or romanticising the crimes of the Pharesmid SyndicateZao Corsairs and similar pirate brethren, and other terrorists (although such stories and virtualities are extremely popular and hard to stamp out)
  • So-called "adult entertainment" virtualities featuring Hwuru and Thrax

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "H" Is For High House

Illustration by John Howe

The High House 

Wing there with me

The high place, the infinite space

The only structure built into hyperspace 

What node does it thread? What race built it? Who lives there now - 

Among its many rooms?

We know it's real 

(we think) 

Because the feathered Hyehoon 

Of quick-clawed Omu 

Say they've been there 

They call it Marao's House 

Wing with me there

We've loved the title of James Stoddard's The High House for a long time, so hopefully he's OK with another even higher (hyper?) house.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "G" Is For Gemba Gigante

Image by NASA/JPL - Caltech/R. Hurt

Gemba Gigante. The half-molten volcanic superearth Planetary Reserve Bank of the Alliance. Gemba's location and the hyperspace node psi-passwords required to access it are the best guarded secrets of the Neshekk banking clans. Gemba's crushing gravity and poisonous atmosphere make it a deadly place to visit. What little we know of the world comes from a handful of renegades from Gnome collectives that secured gem and mineral mining consignment rights to tap the planet's Deep Veins. The rumors of starships with gem-hulls are true. Those hulls were mined on Gemba Gigante.

But the planet's hostile exterior hides even bigger secrets. They're old ones. Long ago, far below Gemba's molten seas and ever-fracturing charred continents, a timelost race built an intricate and slightly out-of-phase three-dimensional megastructure. It contains countless forcewall-protected vaults which slowly shift and rotate about several axes.

Only when the time is right do specific vaults present themselves for access. And of course, accessing these vaults requires still other codes.

With help of a half-mad Deva apostate, the Neshekk broke the source code of the forcewall structure, and began adding further security features, such as collapsing forcewall vaults, and spill channels that allow lava to flow into forcewall corridors. A Smaragadine psientist designed the psi-sniffing drones with which the Neshekk stocked the corridors and vaults. Finally, the Neshekk infected the local Metascape with weaponized AIs derived from complex financial instruments. This provided the final deadly layer of highly unpredictable defense.

But the vaults themselves! What wonders the Neshekk banking clans hold! For example:
  • Vault 7677 contains a vast reserve of magnetic bottles containing anti-matter bullion, the universal reserve currency, 
  • Vault 9947998243 contains approximately 10,000 of the squat moravec clade known as the Quigashe (perhaps a corruption of the Old Earth phrases "Quick cache" or "Quick cash"). The mobile cash machines of the Archaic Oikumene stand in mute rows like soldiers in some ancient sovereign's tomb. These moravecs are 3D printers that defecate cash. It's rumored that one or two of the utmost wealthy Neshekk banking lords use their nizara privacy screen to hide a Quigashe within their retenue. 
  • Vault 42477867 contains 7,641 Minga slaves in suspended animation: a reserve leverage currency that would raise deep ethical concern if its presence was widely known in the Alliance.
  • Vault 744 stores the viral precursors for galis, the conspicuous wealth display skin lesions favored by Ngghrya, Zao pirates, Green Ssraad, and other alien and criminal elements.



Gemba Gigante T+4 E-1 R+4
  • Hidden vaults built by the ancients
  • Half molten superearth
  • Planetary reserve bank of the Alliance

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Binti" By Nnedi Okorafor

Cover illustration by David Palumbo

Binti is a 90 page novella by Nnedi Okorafor. It is part of Tor's new imprint featuring shorter works of high quality SF. The book sports Stubby the Rocket on its spine rather than the usual Tor logo. I read a longer short work in this series just a few weeks ago: Kai Ashante Wilson's superb The Sorcerer of Wildeeps and Binti is a no less accomplished work.

It's also just as bloody in its own way, although that won't be a surprise to anyone who has read Nnedi's adult work.

The novella tells the story of Binti, a girl from the Himba tribe of Namibia, who has just been accepted into Oomza University, galactic U. So we have here a very Heinleinian set up: a youth sneaks off to seek their fame and fortune among the stars. Except being from an ethnic minority, Binti takes a lot of shit from other Earthers even before she gets off planet.

Numenera fans will love the edan that Binti found in the desert and now carries with her as a keepsake. "'Edan'" was a general name for a device too old for anyone to know it[s] functions, so old that they were now just art." As she goes through security screening at the spaceport, Binti's edan becomes a focus of the guard's scrutiny:

"He was inspecting its stellated cube shape, pressing its many points with his finger and eyeing the strange symbols on it that I had spent two years trying unsuccessfully to decode. He held it to his face to better see the intricate loops and swirls of blue and black and white, so much like the lace placed on the heads of young girls when they turn eleven and go through their eleventh-year rite."

Fans of Farscape, the Trinity RPG, and the Strange Stars setting will love the starship in which Binti travels (whose name may be an original Star Trek series reference; but maybe not):

"The ship was a magnificent piece of engineering technology. Third Fish was a Miri 12, a type of ship closely related to a shrimp. Miri 12s were stable calm creatures with natural exoskeletons that could withstand the harshness of space. They were genetically enhanced to grow three breathing chambers within their bodies."

Due to one particularly bloody scene, I'd say this is a novella for adults rather than for the YA market. I won't spoil the rest of the story; just get it and read it. Nnedi has created an interesting, emotionally complex and resourceful young female protagonist. Conflict is resolved in ways you don't often see in space opera. There are some rather fantastic medusoid aliens, with a culture that mirrors the Afrofuturism of the humans in this setting. I may write the Meduse up in the near future as a clade for the Strange Stars setting. They are a perfect fit.

Just go read this one!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "F" Is For Flight

Vorlon from Babylon 5

There are four clades with a connection to flight in the Strange Stars setting. 

The angelic, winged Deva have the power of flight both in the air and far above in space. This power comes in handy, as the Deva collective mission is to repair the Jupiter brains that comprise their solar system. They hope to restore the mind of God, or at least the malfunctioning and perhaps in some cases deranged planetary minds embodied in the ten planets that orbit Altair.

The Voidgliders have dragonfly plasma sails that allow them to maneuver in space. Vacuum is their natural habitat. Their unique ability to sense hyperspace nodes has led to a small number of Voidgliders being pressed into service as the preferred scouts of the Vokun Empire's spacefleets. Their space flight is elegant, but few have had an opportunity to see Voidgliders among the stars. The Vokun Empire has confined most of their kind to a single star system.

Vokun elders almost universally have difficulty even walking, let alone flying, due to the massive girth that comes with Vokun maturity. The Vokun lack wings, but they are frequently able to fly short distances at great speed due to the emergency maneuver rockets built into their flying chairs. No one will mistake them for angels, but more than a few have called the Vokun devils.

The fourth clade, the Hyehoon, experiences flight as a constitutive absence. Their clade was created by combining avian and human DNA, but they are incapable of flight. Many Hyehoon feel this loss deeply, and the most extreme of their kind are Eden Seeker atavists plotting a regressive biological flight toward thoughtless, winged instinct.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "E" Is For Enablers

Star Frontiers Bar Scene

There's a saying in the Strange Stars that anyone with a bad idea eventually finds an Enabler to make it happen.  The Enablers are a group of individuals and organizations who solve a central problem of interstellar commerce: space travel is very expensive. Even the most hands-on executive can't afford to go everywhere - and even when that's possible, many prefer to keep some distance from certain business operations. Deniability is often good for business. And politics.

Enablers are the intermediaries who Make Things Happen. Business deals. Negotiations with kidnappers. Recovery of lost (or simply desired) goods and information. Finding a lost or errant heir. Dirty tricks even. The patron just needs to find an Enabler.

Enabler outfits like the Industrial Diplomats, who trace their origins all the way back to the eponymous negotiators and intermediaries of the Archaic Oikumene, advertise on the local Metascape of most Alliance worlds. In the Vokun Empire, in contrast, young Vokun lords often make trouble for Enablers who are too visible; they will demand a cut, which tends to undermine the patron's sense that the service is confidential. In Vokun space, it is always best to make discrete inquiries with an Ibglibdispan manager in the local Port Authority.

Freelance Enablers can be found in the bars and entertainment establishments of most spaceports. Often they have multiple jobs for which they need skilled professionals.* It is helpful to have the ENablR app loaded on your comms device so you can locate them quickly and efficiently. These freelancers are often the best option in regions such as the sparsely populated Outer Rim, or the lawless Zuran Expanse.

The Enabler handles all elements of the transaction:
  • Establishing with the patron all details of the requested service; 
  • Drawing up all confidential legal documents required for the service;
  • Establishing reward levels (e.g., "Wanted Alive" vs. "Documented Death or Disintegration Required") for services rendered.** 
  • Defininig any ancillary benefits for skilled professionals such as Payment On Death compensation in the case of a fatality on the job.**
  • Securing skilled professionals to carry out the service; and 
  • All follow-up activities and accountabilities regarding work completed.
It goes without saying that in many of the shadier businesses, "the Enabler" is a corporation with a front-sophont who appears to operate solo. Rest assured and be forewarned that failing to make payment for contracted services, or failing to comply with the requirements of contracts can have dire consequences. There are Enablers who specialize in investigating patrons who skip payments and who pursue professionals who fail to deliver fully on the terms of their contract - or who make of wroth information or goods that were to be secured.

Contracted professionals should be particularly wary of the Ibglibdishpan legal review teams within certain Enabler outfits. The Ibglibdishpan are prone to obsessing about details, so be prepared for communcatons breakdowns as "review cycles" are initiated without warning, followed by delayed payments and reward levels denied based on technicalities.

*See "5 Operations, 8 Iterations" on page 30 of the Strange Stars Game Setting Book for lots of missions that Enablers are looking for contracted professionals to complete.

**In the Alliance, most reward and benefit transactions by established Enabler corporations will be handled through a financial intermediary; Neshekk banking clans typically collect revenues from the patron and distribute payments to the Enabler and their contracted professionals.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "D" is for Deaders

Strange Stars is versatile; you can bring to it whatever other SF influences and ideas feel right for your campaign. I see a lot of people make comparisons between the look of Strange Stars, and their favorite SF games of yesteryear like Star Frontiers. I imagine that many people will pull races from Star Frontiers and adapt them to whatever ruleset they use for their Strange Stars game.

One of the races I'm going pull in to my Strange Stars games from now on are the Deaders from the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion and The Last Parsec campaign setting. Deaders are great! They are people who were paid in advance to lease their future corpses to small alien parasites.

Those alien slugs reconnect to the dead human's nervous system, and reamimate the corpse - to a certain extent.

The corpse has to be contained within a sealed suit which is pumped full of preservatives to stop or slow the rotting. From the poster above, it's pretty clear that some humans find them unsettling, and that Deaders clearly face some degree of discrimination.

I wouldn't want to share a bunk or a shower with one, but otherwise I'd be happy to crew with one. They're pretty chill, no-drama types, if a little clumsy and slow.

Very soon now, YOU may have a Deader signing-on with your crew.

What follows is a clade template for a necrosophont inspired by the Deader. They might even be called a Deader. But not to their face, I hope. But that's kind of rude.


(Alien Parasitic Reanimate)

Sophont Type: Biologic

  • Alien parasite, human corpse 
  • Leaks are a problem
  • "Deader" is such a rude term
  • Cold and logical
  • Slow and clumsy
SKILLS: Academics, Engineering, Science, Will

  • Dead Reckoning: Your spacesuit isn't the only thing that can spring a leak. Chemical changes in your host's necrotic brain periodically fire-up long idle synapses. You can temporaily gain deep insights into what the humans around you are thinking. Spend 1 FP to use Will for one Scene as if you had the Telepathy stunt from the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook.
  • Science Officer: You are normally so cold and logical that many sophonts think you are a bit callous. You can use your detached, dispassionate, and harsh demeanor to intimidate, scare, or unsettle adversaries. Use Science in place of Provoke to make mental attacks. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "C" Is For Clade

Clades are central to "the fiction" (1) of the Strange Stars setting. To paraphrase Wikipedia, clade is a biological term for a group of organisms consisting of an ancestral organism and all its lineal descendants; collectively this group forms a branch on the tree of life. In the Strange Stars setting, we use the term clade to refer to any distinct subspecies of sophont (intelligent being), whether that being is a biologic (traditional organic), moravec (self-reproducing machine), or infosophont (software AI) lifeform.

Still with us?  

The concept of clade is central to the fiction of Strange Stars because humanity has spread out among the stars for a long time. Many distinct subspecies of humans exist. Many look like aliens. Some may have alien genes. Some may be entirely alien or machine, but are viewed now as part of an ecumen of intelligent beings. 

My Strange Stars games tend to run very pulpy, but there is no reason why you couldn't build a whole campaign exploring how this evolution (or human/alien/AI-induced genome change) occurred. Maybe some of the people, factions, and machines that engineered this cladistic diversity are still out there, waiting to be discovered?

The Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook gives players 26 clade templates to start with, and the Threats section of the book contains others that can be put to good use by creative players and GMs. It is also straightforward for players to hybridize two clades, or create new clades of their own. The rulebook will tell you how.

I'll leave you with these words from J.B.S. Haldane, courtesy of Wikipedia:

"The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order. That kind of thing is characteristic of nature."
-What is Life? The Layman's View of Nature (1949)

(1) If there were ever an over-used term in contemporary gamespeak, it is "the fiction". (And why never "the fictions"?) Yet it seems appropriate usage here, because we are talking about deep setting and the implications that flow from it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "B" Is For Bomoth Base Boreas

The ice-shod water world of Boreas hides many secrets. Even in the days of the Archaic Oikumene, this world of the Outer Rim was off the beaten track. beneath the ice, there is a war between the blue-skinned humanoid Uldra, and the ancient, vast coral bioforms known as the Cold Minds. Boreas is neither hospitable nor pacific.

An Alliance scout ship recently detected a Bomoth dome-base in the equatorial region of this frozen planet. The dome is semi-opaque, and cracked. The scout was unable to penetrate the dome using scanners, but imaging reveals shapes moving within the dome: some on the ground level, and some that appear to be flying or leaping.

The exterior of Bomoth Base Boreas is festooned with seismic and acoustic monitors. The dome also reveals a pattern of many small spiderweb cracks, and these features are typically adjacent to fissures within the ice sheets surrounding the base.

So far from planet Woon, on this desolate world of ice and war, what are the Bomoth doing here?


Potential Scenario Aspects:

  • Cracked dome, cracked ice
  • The ice hides many secrets
  • The vibrations are killing us
*Transmissions from the dome

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Strange Stars A-to-Z: A is for Attendant

The Attendants, sometimes also called the Hothouse Heads, are enigmatic moravecs that have only recently made their appearance among the Strange Stars.  They serve as the expert personal attendants for some of the wealthiest of the Strange Stars' elites, and do so with ebuillant flair.

First seen serving members of the dwarf aristocracy of Orichalcos, the Attendants have since branched out. A number have found work serving the owners of orbitals around the gas giant Fortuna IV, the gamblers' paradise. Others have found work among the elite of the ringworld Circus. Most recently, a few have even been found a home in the banking and investment clans of Neshekk.

The Attendants have had no luck within the Vokun Empire, whose lords distrust and fear intelligent machines.

Eschewing conventional forms of acoustic communication, the Attendants only converse with individuals who have access to the Metascape. Their communicative modalities transcend mere language; the Attendants also express themselves through elaborate floral displays which stimulate olfactory neural networks as well as auditory and lingiustic centers. It's rumored that their olfactory displays are so potent that Attendants can use them for both self-defence and the protection of their employers.

Some Attendants have become so successful in managing their clients' personal and business affairs that their employers have become entirely reclusive. These masters no longer attend their own board meetings, travel between systems for high-level business negotiations, or deign to give interviews with media,


Attendants make good Supporting NPC Adversaries, although in some cases they may have advanced to become the Main NPC Adversary in a story, with their employer reduced to being the Adversary's pawn. 

Attendant (Supporting NPC Adversary)

Sophont Type: Moravec

  • High Concept: Cybernetic servant with a floral flair
  • Trouble: Haughty by design
  • Strangeness: What's inside that head
  • Aspect: Metascape manipulator
  • Aspect: Only the wealthiest deserve my services
  • Aspect: I can take care of that for you
SKILLS: Academics, Decieve, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, Social Systems

  • First Impressions: Attendants can take +2 to their Rapport skill to create a positive impression with strangers who have access to the Metascape. The Attendant projects a brillant floral display that conveys its status and elegance. 
  • Taste of the Strange: Attendants can take +2 to their Provoke skill to toxify the Metascape. Their floral display releases a toxic scent that has the ability to disrupt the neural functioning of anyone within the same or an adjacent Zone. This is an Attack action doing Mental stress. 
  • Armor: An Attendant's hard shell takes the first two points of stress on any Physical Attack.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Strange Stars A-to-Z

Layout by B. Portly, art by Adam Moore

We're excited to share that the Strange Stars Fate System Rulebook is very close to completion.
Layout is almost entirely done, and I have done a couple rounds of edits of the laid out manuscript. The title page is a real sizzler with some fantastic anti-robot combat art - something worthy of the pages of Magnus Robot Fighter!

Strange Stars is entirely the brainchild of Trey Causey, the publisher of the blog From the Sorcerer's Skull. It's been a privilege to work with him on this project! Visit the Strange Stars Index on Trey's blog for all sorts of Strange Stars universe flavor.

But you don't need to stop there: the Strange Stars Game Setting Book is already available as a full color all-setting book. And if you've seen DK's wonderful line of illustrated Star Wars, books you'll have an idea what you are in for!

Within a few weeks, the Fate Core ruleset for Strange Stars will also be available, with rules for creating characters from the different clades (races) of the Strange Stars setting, as well as rules for threats, world creation, factional play, and much, much more. 

To celebrate the upcoming release, this week I am launching an A-to-Z style series of blog posts featuring some of my own creations for the setting. Strange Stars is built with lots of room for you to be creative and really make the game and setting your own. I''ll demo some of my own ideas here, and if you happen to join my for my Strange Stars games at U-Con in November, or Con of the North in February, feel free to let me know you want to see some of these things at the table!