Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "U" Is For Ulster

Exile concept art by Joshua Gabriel Timbrook

When I was writing the Strange Stars Fate Rulebook, I had conversations with setting creator Trey Causey about how technology worked in his setting. One of the things he shared is that spacecraft have smartmatter barriers that you can pass through to leave the ship. When you pass through, it wraps a smartmatter spacesuit around you. 

The concept reminded me a bit of the skinhugging Ulsters, a setting-defining spacesuit worn in Mark Rein-Hagen's Exile RPG setting. 

I am going to use Ulsters in the next Strange Stars game I run. 

Two drafts of Exile were published before White Wolf discontinued work on the project. Exile was hands-down the most epic space opera setting that has ever been created. It promised to revolutionize SF gaming the same way that Exalted did fantasy.

I am sharing two excerpts from the first and second drafts to share the concept of Ulster. 

Content below the first triple asterisk is from the first draft of Exile.

Content below the second triple asterisk is from the second draft. Where a table was deleted I added a [snip].

No challenge to the image rights or authorship is intended.

I hope this excerpt gives readers a sense of what might have been possible with this game. 

Another piece of concept art by Joshua Gabriel Timbrook


Ulster — Standard spacesuit. Bacteria colonies insure reusable air, process waste and provide a suitable temperature and pressure to your environment. Tiny micro-maneuver thrusters allow movement in zero-gravity environments. Inertia compass included. Comes in black, gray or dark blue. Three patch pockets standard. Equipment straps available upon request. $1,000.


Ulster Discipline

***The text in the ulster section should caress the images of people in Ulsters, wrapping in interesting ways around the photographic forms of Exiles. The figures are posed in a combination of anatomical illustrationesque positioning and fetish catalog style. They are impervious to the deadly environments that surround them: the surface of a starship, near the Trinary Suns, on an mine asteroid, in Nullspace. Microtext points out features and items of interest.***

The Only Thing Between You and the Void

Your Ulster is your friend. There is nothing, nothing at all more important that it when you are in space. Your priorities are: 1. Breathing and 2. Know Thy Ulster. 

What follows is some extremely useful advice about your second skin. Your Skin2 lets you keep your warm wet animalness alive pretty much anywhere, and it has an infinite number of clever functions as well. The Skin2 is literally that: it coats you like a layer of paint.  A flexible, extremely tough paint that recycles your waste, blocks cosmic radiation, super thermo-insulates against heat and cold, performs basic first aid should you need it, and can play host to an endlessly diverse number of accessories from strength-boosting exo-skeletons to built-in entertainment systems, to weapon holsters and mounts.  (Don’t let an Artifex find out what that plasma-thrower hardpoint is for though -- they’ll ‘fix’ it trying to look after your best interests.)

In and out of the second skin:
Alone, the basic Ulster resembles loosely connected strips of black leathery material.  Wearing nothing, don the Ulster by holding it so the strips fall vertically.
The Ulster will change and the bottom half will form two tubes. 
Step into the legs first. Notice it shifting and forming to you.
It will crawl up the rest of your body and stop at your neck. 
A flap projecting from the nape of the neck may now be stretched over to enclose the head if desired.
Note that additional attachments and lodes can be introduced and the Ulster will detect and interface with them automatically.

Removing the Skin2 is a bit more difficult.
First, detach any Lodes and extras.  The Ulster will go flaccid and stretchy.
Start with your face and stretch the neck opening until you can fit a shoulder through it.
Get the arm out of that side and proceed to stretch the material around the opposite shoulder.
Slip the rest off down the torso and legs and you’re out.  Usually takes three or four minutes.

<<<There are as many different kinds of Ulsters as there are those wearing them (the basic ship manifest type is barely functional, but with money and connections you might get your body in a Skin2 with more advanced functions), so we’ll be a bit general.  First off, the Artifex make Ulsters, and if you ever have one that’s damaged or lose the one you have just ask a tinker or higher grade T-Fex and generally they’ll fix you up.  They know (as you should too) that a human without a working Ulster is a dead human.  Luckily whatever little voices they listen to inside their heads makes sure they help out anyone in Ulster-trouble.  They won’t upgrade the Skin2 unless they’re loyal to you and even then you need to know what to tell them to do.>>>


Known ulsters are apparently composed of a mixture of four substances, whose different proportions affect the way a lode can modify and enhance its functions. Lodes configure the various substances dynamically to actualize enhancements. For instance, the Military type/mix has a diamond-like sheen to it, seeming to lend itself to toughness and structure-based applications. Furthermore, Ulster material is made of hundreds of layers of micro-woven materials, forming shielding layers, transport layers, actuator layers, et cetera.  An Ulster can do pretty much anything because its structure is mutable, stretchable, and can serve as a medium for stuff like Lodes and Machina to communicate through.

You need to have a Consortium techie make these modifications, or have an owned Tinker fiddle with it under your direction, but here are some more ways an Ulster can be modified:

generate breathable air by itself
coats you inside and out (through your digestive, respiratory, and reproductive tract)
monitors your hormonal and endocrine chemistry and alters it as you wish
has self-renewing maneuvering jets
forms storage vacuoles for liquids and solids
animate its form on the fly for theatrical and camouflage purposes
form tentacles or tails or even extra limbs
generate and stores electrical power from solar cells or ionosphere wires
act as its own telemetry send/receive antenna
work with a Signet lode as its all-around sensorium recorder
automatically perform surgery and medical functions

You can see how the versatility of an Ulster is limited only by the imagination (and skill) of the wearer.  And the degree to which the lodes’ mandates are broken that you’re installing.

<<<Another important note: take it off.  It’s rare that one gets the opportunity to be out of your Ulster.  I know we say you gotta have it on and it’s the most important thing, but when you’re safe you should take it off.  For one thing, sex is much better in just your original skin, unlike the fun but essentially impersonal Ulster-shielded couplings that pass for most sex in the Grange.  Risk of infection and the element of trust involved makes it a whole new thing... you’ll like it.  Oh, and then there’s the stories you hear about belt miners who wear their Skin2s for years and years:  I saw with my own eyes when one took off her Ulster and her REAL skin came off with it  -- just sloughed off and she didn’t feel a thing ‘till her nerve endings hit the air!  Seems the Ulster bonds to your epidermis after a time.  Consider yourself warned.

On a lighter note, be creative with how you wear your Skin2.  Nothing marks you more as a green Exile than a plain Ulster.  Paint it, wear clothing over it, attach blinking lights to it, morph it into a unique drape, cut, and shape -- express yourself, baba.  This is the Grange and you should revel in your newfound freedom!>>>

Monday, December 28, 2015

Klingon-Romulan Fusions

The guy on the right might be a good match for John M. Ford's concept of the Klingon-Romulan fusion, a Klingon clade genetically modified to resemble (and interact more readily with) Romulans.

Many people will recall the original FASA depiction of the fusions here:

Here is my take on the Klingon-Romulan fusion for use with the Far Trek RPG.

Klingon-Romulan Fusion
Attribute Modifiers: ST+1, CA-1

Species Talents:
Desert Adapted +2
Aggressive +2 to Initiative rolls
Duplicitous +2

Skills: Use general skills list on p.15

Class: Choose a Klingon branch of service from Appendix IV.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Introducing Ensign T'Plana-Harth

Far Trek is C.R. Brandon's quick, lean, and clean fanRPG for roleplaying in the original series universe. Use the link to learn more about the game and to download the PDF. This is one game I am hoping to run in the New Year.

Yesterday, I created a few PCs using the Far Trek rules. You roll 3D6 for attributes, and then select your race, class, skills, and talents. Creating a character takes 10 minutes or less.

Here is the first of the three characters I have made so far:

Ensign T'Plana-Harth
("lady return-thinking to the direct experience of the universe")
Red Shirt class, Vulcan species

Attributes: ST +1, DX 0, IQ +3, CA -1

Vulcan Species Talents:
Desert Adapted +2
Lack of Emotion -1

General Skills:
Armed Melee +1
Interrogate +2
Investigate +2
Languages +2
Marksmanship +1

Red Shirt Skills:
Communications +2
Small Unit Tactics +1

Mind Meld
Vulcan Nerve Pinch

Ensign T'Plana-Harth is a skilled interrogator with the ship's Security department. She is tight-lipped and reserved, and many think her harsh. However, her stoicism has often proved useful on tough away missions, and she isn't above using her mind meld ability to force information from hostile parties. T'Plana-Harth hopes the homeworld does not become aware of these ethical infractions. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "T" Is For Transmogs


Transmogs were used by the earliest labor teams to leave Old Earth. These teams usually consisted of multiple robots and a single human team lead. Robots possessed artificial intelligence, often with quite pedestrian, companionable, crotchety, or quirky personalities. Having a human team lead was essential to these teams' success. Robot teams were more efficient, more cooperative, and more purposeful when accompanied by a human.

While the ancient robots displayed unique personalities, they were not highly specialized. Instead, these ancient machines used swappable skill modules called transmogs. These were small, thumb sized devices which snapped into a port in the robot's head. Need to switch spacehand skills for salesmen's skills? Swap out the transmog. Need a construction team rather than an ag-team? Look around in the box where all the transmogs are stored and swap the modules out.

If you're confused which transmogs are which, almost any robot on a labor team can help you find the right one.

A few of these robots still exist among the Strange Stars today. They are valuable collectors items, as they often know the locations of archaitech, the hyperspace routes to long-lost systems, and how to build and repair hyperdrives.

The key, of course, is to find one with the right transmogs to do the job - or someone who possesses some of these old modules but who doesn't know or have a use for them. Many transmogs end up being used as jewelry or charms by the ignorant...

This Strange Stars post was inspired by Clifford D. Simak's short story "Installment Plan".


We recently published some Quick and Dirty Robot Rules for Strange Stars. Transmogs can be used with these rules quite easily. Here's what to do:
  • In place of the Assignment aspect, give the robot a Personality aspect. Examples include:
    • Lazy labor robot
    • Battered and brused mechanical spacehand
    • Any crankier and you'd need to wind him
    •  Sexy but rusty gynoid
    • A machine that remembers ancient things
  • Select a Failure Mode. Particulary appropiate ones for ancient labor team robots include:
    • Touchy transmog slot
    • Needs direction
    • A tendency to wander
    • No spare parts
  • Select skills/approaches as normal.
  • Write in a Transmog Slot as an Extra. 
    • Instead of selecting three Stunts, each of these robots has a single transmog slot. 
    • When a transmog is plugged into the slot, the robot temporarily acquires one specific transmog stunt. 
    • Transmog stunts represent physical, mental, or social skills; they can never be psionic in nature. 
    • A robot may not swap out their current transmog on their own. The swap always requires the assistance of another character. It takes one turn to make the swap. 
    • There's no hard and fast limit on the number of transmogs that a robot has in their possession, but 5 is a good starting number.
    • If a player is creating a transmog-capable robot, they may start play as soon as they have written one transmog stunt for the character. Other transmog stunts may be selected during play.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Print Edition Of Far Trek For Sale TODAY ONLY

Just a weekend ago, I had a chance to play FASA Trek for the first time! I've been thinking a lot about original Star Trek since last Saturday's Saturday Night Space Opera game, and it is fortuitous that one week after the game, the Far Trek RPG is available for sale for one day - TODAY ONLY!

This is an at-cost fan publication that is only intermittently available in print. You can always get the PDF from the Far Trek blog however.

If you like original Star Trek best, you can't go wrong with Far Trek. It's not a retroclone of FASA Trek, but its own simple system with strong simple mechanics for emulating Star Trek: everything you need in fact for action from the original series pilot through the animated series. Most importantly, there are stats for Kzinti. Real Kzinti.

With today's order, I'll have enough copies for every player to have one at the table when they create characters - not that chargen is laborious or difficult.

Hopefully, we'll get an episode in during the next couple of months.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "S" Is For Ship Names, Bizarre

Looking back on SF games past, it is a relief to see that some of them offered the occasional weird starship name. Some offered whole lists of them. Although servicable strange starship names can be invented on the fly with players, this is one area that often benefits from advance preparation.

I have one or two Strange Stars Fate games coming up in the next few months, and here are a few starships that will be making an appearance in the games.

II wish I could say more about them now, but that would be telling. I've already embedded a clue about one of the ships in the post.
  • Lunatic Barge
  • Paradise Barrage
  • Force Majeure
  • Indigo Thrust
What bizarre ship names have you concocted?