Thursday, November 12, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "N" Is For Node


Many people know about the New Weird: people like China Mieville, Jeff VanderMeer, and K.J. Bishop to name a few. But the weird in SF isn't a new thing, and M. John Harrison didn't invent it back in the 80s either. It goes back to the 30s and the weird tale, and even further back to the late 19th Century supernatural tales (read Bierce lately? the weather is perfect for it now!) and the scientific romance.

Charles L. Harness's 1968 SF novel, The Ring of Ritornel, also very much written in this longstanding SF tradition that taps into the weird, and one of the central concepts that ties in well to the Strange Stars setting is the concept of the Node. In Strange Stars, the existing hyperspace network is an artificial construct of the ancients. Some parts of it continue to work as originally constructed; others are quiescent and/or forgotten.

Systems are linked to the hyperspace network via local system nodes. These are fixed jump points that link to a specific system or systems. The architecture of the network of hyperspace nodes was similar enough to the system of clusters in the Diaspora RPG that I used the Diaspora SRD to build systtem and cluster creation rules for the Fate edition of Strange Stars. 

There is some weirdness to nodes as they exist in Strange Stars.  The biggest one is that these jump points are psi-active. Someone with psionic abilities like the Voidgliders can discover unmapped or quiescent nodes. People with knowledge of psi-cyphers can activate a node for a jump, or even turn one on/off.

But things could get even weirder. Unlike the hyperspace nodes in Strange Stars, the node found in The Ring of Ritornel, is an interdimensional rift. It's a productive rift which generates new particles leading to hydrogen gas clouds (and eventually new stars and galaxies). The node is an object of scientific study, with a nearby space station that needs to be periodically evacuated due to space quakes emerging from the node. If you thought of these space quakes as massive clashing gravity waves, you'd have an idea of how I'd describe them in a game.

Harness' node also has wildlife, such as the winged space-spiders known as Krith, and smaller fry ursecta that feed on any kind of normal space energies (beam weapons, nuclear drives, etc,) used near a node. This makes the node an extremely dangerous place in which space travellers have to rely on harpoons and melee weapons for defense, as well as ancient slug thrower weapons.

People who pass into Harness' node physically are changed; they come back with bodies made of different matter, and develop strange psi/energy powers. Being stuck inside a node is a pain. Imagine floating without sensation for an eternity in a void. One might go insane. Or become a god with an energy shielded antimatter body upon return to normal space. (Note to self: Some of Harness' SF jargon such as "passivated antimatter" was pretty amusing and must be appropriated for a game.)

Some sequences in The Ring of Ritornel made me wonder if Harness' node was an inspiration for the Negative Zone in Captain Marvel. The Negative Zone was a strange space dimension where Rick Jones was frequently imprisoned as a result of his planar-timeshare with Mar-vell. I've never met two guys in comics who deserved to be together as much as Rick and Mar-vell, but those Nega-Bands always got in the way.

So there are a lot of ways to weird-up the hyperspace nodes in Strange Stars. Here are a few; in fact we have an Alean D12's worth. May the blind goddess of free will protect you from Ritornel's cyclic determinism:
  1. The node bleeds energy from space vessels, shields, and weapons. You need to enter the node using chemical rockets.
  2. The node is malfunctioning. It leads Nowhere. Or Knowhere.
  3. The node is psi-active but has been corrupted in some way. It only responds to psi-communications using the ancient and terrible thought structures of the Zurr.
  4. The node is psi-active. In fact, it confers psi-abilities on people who didn't have them before. People are superstitious about this node, but it attracts many pilgrims.
  5. The node produces space quakes. Gravitational waves have broken up most planets in the system, so that the planetary system orbiting the star is just a series of concentric rings. The system is a Mecca for space miners but it is very dangerous to prospect here because of the quakes.
  6. The node is a drive-drainer. Ships emerging from the node are vulnerable to ambush because their shields, drives, and energy weapons aren't working.
  7. There is a research station near the node. Its goal is to breed new nodes through an experimental process called node mitosis. The system has drawn spy-scientists representing different Strange Stars factions eager to steal the secrets of node mitosis.
  8. Ship systems randomly fail near the node - not all the time, but often enough that the node is surrounded by a ship's graveyard which is periodically trawled by salvagers.
  9. Node diving is a popular sport in this system. It's also an insane sport. Try it if you like. Don a spacesuit, connect suit-to-ship by means of a physical tether, and reel yourself into the node. Some people come back changed. Some people never come back.
  10. The node plays an important role in the mating rituals of the Voidgliders. The system derives a steady income from tourists who come to see the elaborate mating dances in which couples, triples, and quintets dive about and sometimes into the node.
  11. The node is an important religious and meeting site for various clans of Kosmoniks. If you need to find a Kosmonik this is the place to come. Of course, they're a superstitious bunch, so depending on what you do and say, and when and how you approach them, they may view you as a god or a demon.
  12. This node is a major safari site. The Krith are about the tamest thing to come out of the node. Come here to hunt space leviathans, krakens, and other megafauna. Watch out for the single huge tentacle that periodically lashes out of the node, wraps itself around a ship, and crushes the vessel - or even worse, pulls it somewhere else.


  1. Great stuff. I wish I had read this back when i was writing Strange Stars.

    1. Thanks! I got excited when I saw my email today, and this just flowed out of the node.