Thursday, April 21, 2016

Porting Over Grimmsgate to White Star

Last summer I ran the Swords & Wizardry adventure Grimmsgate for my D&D 5E group, and it has proven itself to be an interesting and enjoyable adventure. I have already written ideas about converting it to Stars Without Number, but here I will present my ideas about using it as a White Star adventure.

The Ancient Temple becomes an old research lab, which once upon a time housed a crazed AI. Three powerful Star Knights defeated the said AI after it wreaked some havoc on a nearby world, and brought it, locked in a datacube, to a research lab where it would be studied and stored safely. The facility had some robotic laboratories and a medbay as well. Eventually, as the tides of civilization receded and the world became quite a barbarous backwater, the facility's staff become little more than an atavistic religious group, following ritual after ritual in place of the old protocols. A young initiate, Arumvel his name, tried to breathe some technological life into this dying ritual, and used his dataport - implanted into all initiates in a barely-functional initiation ritual - to jack into the mainframe into which the AI was locked and "chained". The old AI quickly "hacked" Arumvel's brain and brainwashed him into releasing it into the facility's still-functional computer network, using the remaining robotics to murder the other initiates and priests. However, it was unsuccessful in subverting the facility's own stable AI (the "Tomb Guardian") which still controls some of the robotics. Using the facility's high-tech medlab, the AI converted Arumvel into a full cyborg equipped with a nanite-cloud weapon. Arumvel now captures local farmers and transforms them into crazed cyborgs (the "Mogura-Jin") under his - and the AI's - control. The AI would wish to eventually take over the area and rebuild communication arrays in order to transmit itself into passing ships... Unless someone stops them.

The PCs will be hired by the regional government to investigate disappearances in the remote outback village of Grimmsgate (or Givat-Giram) near that facility...

Conversion Notes:

The demon Vuod - crazed AI
The Tomb Guardian - stable AI security system
Arumvel - now a powerful, nanite-using Cyborg!
Mogura-Jin - full Cyborgs!
Cursed Humans - Cyborgs with partial implants (due to dwindling supplies).
Undead skeletons - humanoid service robots.
"Powerful" undead skeletons - security robots (also humanoid in shape)
Etarra and Albraith - locals captured and kept restrained to tables in the medlab pending Cyborg Conversion!
Manes Demons - improved robots under AI control.
Paladins - powerful Star Knights (placed in cryogenic storage but dead due to the AI's machinations)
Fane - mainframe
Altar - backup mainframe; orb is replaced by a dataslab with full data backup.
Dragon on the regional map - local apex predator capable of flight and breathing flame/acid
Golden Treasure - ancient high-tech components fetching a high price on the black market

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cheating Death - for White Star (TM)

Stellagama Publishing is Proud to Present:
Cheating Death!

Death is always lurking in the furthest reaches of space: a laser strike, a Star Sword chop, the maw of an alien beast, an exploding starship – all of these and many more circumstances can kill even the mightiest character. To simulate these stories and bring them to your gaming table, we offer you with these rules – intended to give the great heroes and villains of your game a second chance, typically carrying a terrible price.

These new, optional rules have three components. The first is Resuscitation – the possibility of reviving a mortally injured character despite him or her falling to 0 Hit Points. This, of course, could have very bad implications to the character, as few come unscathed out of such injury. The second is Cyborg Conversion – bringing a dead character back to life with advanced cybernetics, usually with negative side effects. The third and final is Bio Reconstruction– rebuilding a dead person from scratch with ultra-advanced biotech, provided that the brain remained more or less intact; this also has potential side-effects, of course, as rising from the dead usually comes at a price.

The supplement includes:
- Mortal wounds and resuscitation

- Repairing "dead" robots

- Bringing back the dead as cyborgs

- Rebuilding your body from scratch with Bio Reconstruction!

Fully compatible with White Star™ and Swords and Wizardry™, and highly compatible with a wide range of older-school games.

Get it HERE!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cheating Death - Coming this Monday!

Stellagama Publishing is proud to present *DRUMROLL*

Cheating Death - advanced rules about mortal wounds, Resuscitation, and technological ways to cheat death itself!

Ever wanted interesting things to happen when you reach 0 Hit Points? Here's the answer! Ever wanted your presumably-slain villain to come back many adventures later to exact revenge on your player characters? Here you have a way to bring him back with a vengeance - and cybernetic implants to boot!

Coming this Monday for White Star(TM) - fully compatible with Sword and Wizardry(TM) and associated games!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hard Space - History

Here is a short historical background of my Hard Space setting.

World War III came about in the early 2040's, but luckily enough it did not materialize into the all-out nuclear armageddon feared by many. Instead, the war dragged on for over a decade, until all belligerents were bled dry and exhausted from the long war years. In 2053, the war was finally over, and the world was in ruins from prolonged conventional warfare and the few nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that did see use in the war.

All sides claimed victory but in reality, there were no victors - just bankrupt and impoverished nations incapable of conducting any further large-scale military operations. Politically, most governments emerged from the war in a very weakened state and had very little support from the war-weary population. The governments were mostly powerless to do anything meaningful to reconstruct the ruins of their nations; into this vacuum stepped the private sector, thrilled with the possibility of profit from reconstruction. Earth's collapsing nation-states no longer had the political power necessary to force taxes or regulations on the larger corporations, and these companies grew rapidly in size and power.

Bit by bit, the corporations rebuilt parts of Earth. Not all of it; not even most of it. But the corporate arcologies and gated cities provided their residents with the amenities of modern life, unlike the almost universal poverty of the urban blight surrounding them. Rising in profits, the private sector turned its eye to research and development, as well as the industrialization of the solar system. In the early 2060's, these efforts bore fruit and resulted in a rapid succession of innovations, from suspended animation to gravitic control, as well as improvements to the fusion power technology existing from before the war. In 2067, gravitic technology led to the greatest invention of all times - the faster-than-light Jump Drive, demonstrated by a historic month-long round-trip to Alpha Centauri by Zhang-Markov Industries's starship Zhen He. Very rapidly - some would say too rapidly - Iron Star Enterprises followed suit and launches their own exploratory starship, John Glenn, on an expedition to Barnard's Star. Thus began the first generation of space colonization.

Space is dangerous, and interstellar space more so. The first interstellar travellers found this the hard way, with high mortality rates among the early explorers who ran into deadly jump drive malfunctions, vicious alien wildlife - and soon enough, inter-corporate rivalry resulting in bloodshed. But mankind continued its march to the stars, despite the small size of interstellar ships allowed by the early jump drives. Colonies soon sprang out on planets orbiting Alpha Centauri, Barnard's Star, and Ross 154, as well as a small research outpost on a rockball in orbit around Luhman 16. With the development of more robust starship shipyards and thus a larger number of starships, the second wave of interstellar colonization in the early 2090's, colonizing seven new worlds, of them only one, orbiting Wolf 424, turned out to be a highly promising garden world, with the rest being more amenable to rare and exotic element mining.

The greatest discovery in the history of space flight came in 2099 when a detailed dig o the Cydonia region of Mars yielded weird alien artifacts after long years of rumors and strange accidents caused to spacecraft and ground vehicles in the vicinity of this region. While the Face of Mars turned out to be nothing but an oddly-shaped hill, the region itself appeared to be visited by extraterrestrial travellers - dubbed the "Visitors". They left behind unexplainable and deadly anomalies warping time and space, as well as a plethora of artifacts, the function of which was never fully discerned so far. Rumors of similar "Visitation Zones" on GL674 IVa and Ross 128 II were strongly denied by Iron Star and Zhang-Markov, respectively. In 2116, research into the alien artifacts and anomalies - while yet far from bringing about an understanding of the Visitors themselves, their purpose, or their civilization, gave scientists valuable insights into meta-dimensional physics and exotic matter, bringing about a new generation of magneto-gravitic and jump engines. These new engines, allowing both larger starships and longer travel ranges, opened up new frontiers to Humanity.

Today, in 2130, human space boasts 35 primary interstellar colonies. Most are very small in size, especially the remote ones, though Proxima Centauri III does serve as a home to almost a hundred thousand people. The frontier is wide open, and starships are "cheap" enough for smaller corporations and all sorts of social and religious movements to afford. Criminals, of course, can afford them as well, and piracy is a blight on the high frontier... This is a time for daring people to go out of the Sol system and seek their fortune among the stars, though many will find there not their fortune - but their untimely death.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Hard Space

I have written a month or so ago about the inherent lethality of the Classic Traveller rules as written. While I dedicate most of my game-design time to Visions of Empire which has commercial implications, as well as shorter Stellagama Games products, I thought that it might be fun to write up a Traveller setting inspired by my conclusions regarding Classic Traveller lethality. This, of course, is for Classic Traveller - mainly Books 1-3, with some added material from Book 4 and Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, as well as hand-picked materials from JTAS. However, the spirit of the setting is that of the three little books - a dangerous, mostly-frontier, small-ship universe. This is not a grand space opera setting such as Visions of Empire or the Official Traveller Universe, but rather a much grittier, harsher and less colourful. Think of it, maybe, as a reflection of mine on my old Outer Veil setting (published four and a half years ago by Spica Publishing) with the "grit" and "harshness" dials turned up to 11.

I have made a rule for myself, however, in order to prevent having Hard Space take over the time devoted to Visions of Empire: I have made a rule for myself, however, in order to prevent having Hard Space take over the time devoted to Visions of Empire: I will write ONE paragraph for Hard Space for every FIVEparagraphs I write for the Visions of Empire.

Anyhow, the premise of Hard Space is this - the year is 2130 AD. Humanity has only recently reached out to the nearby stars, but limited technology does not allow for rapid interstellar expansion. Space is dangerous, ships are small, and even sixty-three years of faster-than-light exploration and settlement have only carved out a small, sparsely populated colonial region around Sol. As the old national governments on Earth have been bled dry financially and politically by the events of the mid-21st century, space is the domain of the private sector - of the larger corporations; once you leave Luna's orbit, Earth governments are little more than flags-of-convenience to private-sector investments and facilities. Competition among the "Big Four" interstellar corporations, and to a lesser degree between their rivals, is tense and quite cutthroat, leading to a great degree of underhanded actions and industrial espionage.

Most of humanity still lives on Earth, followed by Luna and Mars. As Earth is highly polluted, extremely crowded, and suffering from an unstable climate,  many people - especially from the lower classes - are willing to take major risks to move to the colonies, where living conditions are often somewhat better, and where corporate jobs abound, even if they are mostly low-level jobs. To get away from the sprawling slums of Earth, many would even accept the risk of travel by Low Berth. Moving to Luna or Mars is easier, but the jobs on the extrasolar colonies pay better, and some of them have actual open-air environments.

Humanity has colonized 35 primary extra-solar worlds, of them 24 in the last fourteen years. The common way to refer to the stages of interstellar colonization is by "generations" or "waves" of colonization related to the development of jump technology combined with the slower creep of regular world-to-world expansion. The 1st generations colonies were founded between 2067 - when the corporations developed the first Jump Drives - and approximately 2090. The 2nd generation started with the colonial push of Zhang-Markov Industries and Iron Star Enterprises to the Coreward and Rimward, respectively, in the early 2090's, and lasted until the development of next-generation starship drives in 2116. The 3rd generation began in 2216 and is still going strong, with Zhang-Markov and Iron Star expanding further along their "arms" and attracting lesser colonial partners; the Royal British Interstellar Company (RBIC) colonizing the Procyon Cluster, and United European Minerals (UEM) colonizing the Ceti Cluster.

Humanity has encountered alien life on many worlds, but no (living) sentient life. There are, however, the Visitors. These alien beings have presumably "Visited" Mars - as well as several extrasolar worlds - leaving behind anomalous "Visitation Zones" filled with anomalies and artifacts, with little hint of their creators or their purpose. Most anomalies are highly dangerous - typically lethal to the unsuspecting explorer - and almost all artifacts have no immediate use. However, gradual research of Visitor artifacts does yield some insights into exotic physics and even weirder molecular biology, and thus any artifact has a meaty price tag when sold to researchers or to scientifically-minded corporations. Exploring a Visitation Zone is a profitable, though highly risky, enterprise. In many cases, when explorers find a Visitation Zone on a remote world, this generates a violent "gold rush" where rival gangs of Stalkers - as those artifact-hunters are often called - stop at nothing when trying to amass artifacts for sale to corporations and research institutes.

This is a very "early" near-future near-Earth setting. Even more than Outer Veil. The maximum Tech Level is 10, though unreliable prototype technology can reach TL13 in some cases, and in the case of electronics and software might even reach TL16 in very unreliable cases. The only Starport-A around is that of the Sol system - the collective shipyards of Earth, Luna and the Belt - and the only Industrial World in the setting is Earth itself. The largest starships are 1,000 tons in displacement - as this setting uses the Classic Traveller Books 2-3 drive tables and drive TLs; small ships are usually faster, and a colonial transport or heavy freighter of 1,000 tons will typically take long weeks to reach most destinations. Colonies are very small and very remote in comparison to anything in the Sol system.

This is a time of outward expansion and adventure among the stars - and also of great, mortal danger. Going into the Unknown is a particularly risky endeavour, as the Unknown as teeth, and Claws, and tentacles, and even the slightest malfunction in a ship's drives or in a spacer's vacc suit could spell disaster to the hapless explorer. Corporate and government marines battle vicious pirates, desperate rebels, and nasty xenomorphs on many worlds, facing a bloody attrition rate; explorers and couriers on the frontier and beyond - colloquially called "scouts" - go among unexplored stars, and in many cases do not return from their missions. The rewards of interstellar exploration are staggering, but so are the risks...

Tentative Map:

Sources of inspiration - literature:
Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Sources of inspiration - film and television:
Alien and Aliens
Apollo 18
Event Horizon
Star Hunter
The Expanse

Sources of inspiration - video games:
Alien Legacy
Dead Space
Metro: 2033 and Metro: Last Light
Red Faction and Red Faction: Guerrilla
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadows of Chernobyl
System Shock 1 and 2

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On the Terran victory against the Reticulan Empire

"Popular opinion in our Republic places the sole responsibility for our victory in the Terran Liberation War on the bravery of our soldiers, the cunning of our generals, and President Singh's unwavering leadership. As far as building our patriotic spirit goes, this view does a good job of uplifting our spirit and adding to our confidence. But history – as a science – must go far beyond such simplistic notions. Why did we, then, defeat the mighty Reticulan Empire?

Yes, our soldiers were brave, our generals were cunning, and President Singh was an excellent leader. But had we faced a united and spirited Reticulan war effort, we would have lost the war and our freedom. But we never faced such an enemy. The Reticulan Empire despite its theoretical might, has three major weaknesses in war: Reticulan culture, which is less conducive to warfare than the Terran one; the Chiwak threat; and the most significant one – the internal contradictions of the Reticulan empire and its centrifugal forces.

First, as a rule, Reticulans make brilliant strategists, mediocre tacticians, and poor soldiers. This has to do with their biology and evolutionary history but even more significantly with their cultural characteristics. Their heroes are scientists and engineers; since their antiquity, their leaders were always artisans and scholars, and not warriors. Reticulan rationality and keen intellect allow them to plot complex strategic plans – some of which will outshine the brilliance of some of the most outstanding achievements of historical human military thought. Once they set foot on the battlefield and go into the smaller scale of company-level combat, however, they lack the instincts and the socio-cultural constructs necessary for excellence at the face of the enemy. Humans and Cicek, on the other hand, excel at tactics and fight much better at the smaller scale. Reticulans try to compensate for this weakness – of which they know all too well – by employing highly mechanized warfare techniques, using warbots, and above all using auxiliaries from alien species adept at war. But in the trenches, Terran instincts give them an edge, and auxiliaries are easy targets for psychological warfare efforts aimed at fomenting revolt and desertion.

Second, the Chiwak are a constant military threat to the Reticulan Empire, for centuries or even for millennia. In terms of personal fighting prowess, these feathered predators are the direct opposite of the Reticulans: they are born and bred for war. Their Dominion – an aggressively expansionist theocracy – seeks to place the entire Reticulan empire under the clawed Chiwak foot. The Reticulans, enjoying superior technology, employ a good number of robots in their war against the Chiwak, and also make use of auxiliary troops on a massive basis. Indeed, under the Reticulan occupation, many humans served as ground troops fighting for the Reticulans and against the Dominion. Given the incessant threat of Chiwak invasion, the Empire could never divert its full resources to combatting the Terrans, lest the Chiwak notice the weakened forces on their border and launch a major offensive.

Third and most important, not all is well in the Reticulan Empire. It has a highly stable social structure, with an Empress on top, ruling over nine Great Houses, who in turn control the Gentry – who lord over the commoner masses. Below all of this, one may find the Client Species, granted a certain level of autonomy but each a subject and a vassal of one Reticulan Great House. Each Reticulan knows her place and her function almost from birth; the only avenue of social mobility is that of a Commoner climbing the social ladder to join the ranks of the Gentry, but beyond that, one's status is a matter of bloodline.

But this stability comes at a price. The worst weakness is that each Great House is a kingdom by itself, highly autonomous – and highly competitive with the other Great Houses. When House Thiragin's thralls – the Terrans – rose up in arms, the other Great Houses were content to let the Thiragin stew in their own pot, and lent little or no help to their ancestral rivals; and the Empress herself saw the revolt as House Thiragin's own problem, which does not concern the central Imperial government. By the time the other Great Houses and the Empress realized the threat posed by the Terrans to the entire Reticulan Empire, Terra has already built itself into a military machine to be reckoned with. Furthermore, the glass ceiling placed by hereditary nobility on social mobility caused many of the more talented Gentry and Commoners resent the Imperial system, where rulership was not determined by skill or merit, but by birth; thus, the Technocratic rebel movement began, and was quickly used by the Terrans as a weapon against the Reticulan war efforts. Finally, the Reticulans often abused and exploited their Client Species; given the opportunities opened by the Terran revolt, many of them – especially a good number of Cicek tribes – were quick to throw off the Imperial yoke and support Terra.

Thus, our great victory is not only the product of our merit as warriors but also of historical circumstances related to the late era of the Reticulan Empire."

- Prof. Vincent Aregai, preface to "History of the Terran War", vol.1 pp.iii-iv, 2259 AD

(from the backstory of my Visions of Empire setting)