An Ashen Stars scenario
by Robin D. Laws
Driven crazy by the muddled motivations and blatant idiot plotting of a certain eagerly-awaited SF movie franchise reboot? Exorcise your frustrations by giving your players the chance to do it right. Under contract to the Shrawley-Gosha corporation, hard-bitten interstellar operatives investigate the demise of a survey mission to a devastatingly hostile alien world. Didn’t they know enough not to touch the gooey stuff? Why did they take off their helmets? Can your PCs learn from their mistakes—or are they doomed to repeat them?
An Ashen Stars scenario
A Ripped From the Headlines Scenario Hook for Ashen Stars
In a development that raises the prospect of bespoke organs created with cells extruded through a 3D printer, a patient in a June 2011 procedure received a new windpipe grown specifically for him. 3D scanning technology provided the template for an exact replica of his original windpipe, sculpted from polymer around a glass mold.
In the future timeline of Ashen Stars, the utopian space empire known as the Combine once assiduously policed its ban on sentient-species cloning. Like so much else, this has fallen by the wayside in the frontier region of the Bleed. But so far it’s proven impossible to create true replicas of intelligent beings—you can make a physical copy, and even age it, but you can’t recreate all of the experiences that shape personal identity.
That may have changed, the lasers discover, when they get the terms of their latest contract. Famed inventor Sian Sar hires them to track down her ex-husband, Rog Trainor, who, without her knowledge, used her own scanning technology to make a complete cellular scan of her brain. She believes that he’s printed out a meat version of her brain, and is using it for competitive advantage—putting her genius to work on the same technologies her company is feverishly developing. Their mission: to bring Trainor to justice, and destroy the counterfeit of her brain.
The twist: Trainor has not only grown a replica of his ex-wife’s brain, but installed it in a clone copy of her body. The result is a new person, who shares Sar’s experiences and personality up to a point, but then diverged. She may not want to remain imprisoned and working for Trainor, but she doesn’t want to be murdered, either. Do the lasers fulfill their contract, or accept her claims of full personhood?
A Ripped From the Headlines Scenario Premise for Ashen Stars
As this article reveals, the conversion of mortgages into complex financial instruments did more than provoke the 2008 global financial meltdown. The data-tracking process used to spin fragments of mortgages off into a tradeable derivative—creating a sort of mortgage slurry, if you will—now makes it impossible to determine whether homeowners, banks, investors, or anyone at all really owns certain real-world property. A nebulously owned property can’t be used as collateral, undermining a key value of everyday finance.
Speaking of slicing and dicing, this springboards a scenario that perfectly fits the Ashen Stars setting, where information loss has been one of the prices paid by a former stellar utopia torn at the seams by recent warfare.
Unlike most planets of the Combine, the synthculture planet Trump’s World practiced 20th century capitalism –albeit in idealized, tourist-park form—even before the Mohilar War. Private ownership of property underpinned this historical reenactment economy. Now info-saboteurs have struck at the heart of the system, scrambling the worldwide property database. The PCs are hired to track down the McGuffin on which the entire economy rests—the single accurate copy of the pre-disaster real estate registry. Complicating the mission: plenty of Trump’s World moguls want the database back up—after they get a chance to fiddle with it, just a little…
According to a conspiracy theory both odd and oddly un-sinister, a youthful Barack Obama, as part of a secret CIA program, used to teleport to Mars. Why, the official denials only serve to confirm it!
To rip this from the headlines into an Ashen Stars scenario…
Teleportation technology doesn’t appear in the game setting. It’s a notorious plot-hoser. And in a roleplaying game you never have to leave out an establishing shot of a shuttle for pacing or budgetary reasons.
With this in mind…
A wealthy woman hires the lasers to locate her missing daughter, Rika True. Like many missing persons contracts, the arrangement calls for them to bring to justice anyone responsible for any harm that may have come to her. Rika, they learn, was last seen applying for employment with the utopian Eden Corporation. They find the uncharted company world that serves as its headquarters: a lush paradise that provides Eden settlers with a life of ease and luxury. They discover that Rika won the coveted right to participate in an Eden teleport experiment. The experiment turns out to be a scam to feed willing volunteers to a bi-dimensional predatory entity. The twist: it’s the entity that makes the planet inhabitable. If they destroy it or drive it away, the atmosphere immediately becomes toxic. Should the lasers reveal this to the populace, the residents decide that they’d rather continue the modest sacrifices than abandon their paradise. Do the lasers bring the system crashing down, as their contract demands, risking the lives of thousands?
From the composers of the Eternal Lies Suite comes a six-track theme for Ashen Stars. James Semple and his team are working on six tracks of evocative, atmospheric melodies to become the soundtrack of your stellar adventures.
Listen to a sneak preview now.
Rewatching Zodiac recently, I was struck by the desire to see David Fincher similarly tackle the Mothman incidents of 1966-1967. This is no swipe at Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies, which I quite like for the way it evokes the enveloping paranoia of paranormal inquiry. It does, however, impose a cinematic structure and sense of resolution on a series of bizarre incidents distinctive for their lack of either quality. Zodiac, however, stands as a masterpiece of negative capability, focusing as it does on a mystery that seems explicable but always tantalizingly out of reach.
I then happened to move onto the underrated Breach, the 2007 film about the apprehension of FBI mole Robert Hanssen. Although investigation occurs in the background, the dramatic action focuses on the relationship between Hanssen (Chris Cooper, in a brilliant performance) and the young agent assigned to get close to him by acting as his assistant.
The two movies share a stylistic touchstone: All the President’s Men, the classic recreation of the Woodward and Bernstein investigation into the Watergate break-in. Zodiac even employs its composer, David Shire. Alan J. Pakula’s brilliant direction wrings incredible suspense out of simple phone calls, in the heroes press reluctant witnesses to cough up essential scraps of information.
Throughout the film, we see Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, as the two protagonists, use a full range of GUMSHOE-esque interpersonal investigative abilities. Like Mutant City Blues or Ashen Stars characters, who must not only figure out what’s going on but be able to prove it, they have to confirm what they know by wringing confirmations from multiple sources. We see them use Flattery, Flirting, Bureaucracy, Inspiration, Reassurance, and even a touch of Intimidation. Bullshit Detector comes out as official denials are issued. They also use social discomfort to get information out of people. By simply refusing to take no for an answer, or to do the polite thing and go away, they exert a subtle pressure on their sources, one distinct from real Intimidation. A journalism-focused GUMSHOE iteration might add this as a new interpersonal ability—perhaps called something like Journalistic Chutzpah.
A detailed and insightful review of Dead Rock Seven for Ashen Stars by kafka – 9/10.
Dead Rock Seven again demonstrates Pelgrane’s superior skills aptitude with design by creating a truly beautiful product. It brings over some the same similar layout, font and formatting used in the Ashen Stars core book- with but with a small number of modifications. Those slight adjustments are critical as they instantly position the GM to the sequence they need for running each scenario/adventure.
There is a review of Ashen Stars over on Flames Rising by Todd Cash. It’s a positive review giving 4 out of 5 stars.
There are not many sci-fi settings that I like; however, this is a damn good setting. Law populates Ashen Stars with interesting alien races, an excellent back-story, and tons of ideas to get players started.
DieHard Game Fan offers this in-depth review of Ashen Stars from a reviewer who is not keen on the GUMSHOE system’s resource management.
Ashen Stars breaks new ground in that genre with its narrow focus on mysteries and problem solving. GUMSHOE fans and those looking for a new sci-fi setting with an emphasis on drama over technical details will get the most out of this game.
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