A nufaith For Ashen Stars

After the disaster of the Mohilar War, new religious movements swept the ravaged region of galactic civilization called the Bleed. Among these so-called nufaiths is a belief system dependent on the personal detachment inherent in long-distance electronic communications. Onandeteria, named after its balla founder, Onandeter, teaches that great spiritual force has always suffused the universe. Prophets of all religions accessed this, understanding it through a multiplicity of cultural experiences. However, the still-mysterious disaster that ended the war threatened to entirely destroy spiritual energy throughout known space. In order to survive, or perhaps as a unpredicted side effect of whatever happened at the war’s end, the universal reservoir of spiritual harmony fled into the deepest harmonics of communications grid. Now, say the Onandeterians, you can interact with divine energy only at a remove, filtered through various telecommunications technologies. This force, which they call the teleteleos, underpins all, giving purpose to an otherwise meaningless interstellar existence. Practitioners pray together only in virtual places of worship, beaming in their holopresences to chant, sing, and commune in fellowship. The more of these virtual services you attend, the holier you become. Devout attendance, the holopriests promise, brings a form of immortality of consciousness, allowing one to permanently harmonize with the teleteleos after death. However, physically touching another worshiper dissipates all of your spiritual attainment. Some sects say this puts you back where you started before you joined the cult. More extreme believers hold that such a disastrous event forever cuts you off from the teleteleos, no matter what you try to do to atone. This happens even when practitioners come into contact unknowingly. As isolated worshipers who appear to one another cloaked in various holographic avatars, accidentally bumps become all too possible. This encourages worshipers to become shut-ins, paranoiacally avoiding all unmediated interaction. Accordingly Onandeteria provides an ideal faith for fugitives and recluses.

The freelance law enforcers of your Ashen Stars crew may be looking for one of these fugitives as part of a bounty contract. They might have to find a way to intercept transmissions used for church attendance, to track a worshiper to his meatspace lair. Or they might be hired by one of the faithful to avenge a scheme that led to their inadvertently touching another worshiper. Another plot hook might have them tracking down the blackmailer who is accessing all the juicy data stored on a confessional server.

An Ashen Stars scenario premise

Before the Mohilar War, many of the Bleed’s planets were settled by proponents of the Synthculture movement. They created worlds to replicate past periods of human and alien history, often filtered through a pop culture lens. The self-described film noir world of Lost Angeles (spelling intentional) functioned surprisingly well until the war came. But in the ensuing privations a new generation of people born and raised on Lost Angeles grew tired of the cultural limitations placed on them by their parents and grandparents. The old regime drifted into authoritarianism and fell to a coup. Now a new civil war rages, between upstart democrats and old-guard former rebels turned oligarchs. Neither faction cares much about the planet’s original hard-boiled style. Which is why one of its aging enthusiasts, now safely off-world, has engaged the PCs to recover one of its key heritage artifacts. A replica of the Maltese Falcon prop from the 1941 film of that name formed the centerpiece of the office belonging to the planet’s first ruler, Mayor Teddy Huston. It appeared in countless newsreel projections in which he delivered epigrammatic truths to his grateful people. Miles Bond, a noir enthusiast of the tavak species, issues the contract. He wants the lasers to wade through the active war zone that is the Lost Angeles capitol and recover that falcon. But it has to be the particular, slightly over-sized one Huston commissioned. Bond doesn’t intend to keep the precious artifact in his own collection. It should be in a museum, he declares, perhaps the Institute of Synthculture Development on Rosehaugh II.

Though neither warring faction seeks to enforce Chandler-era style any more, the statuette remains a vestigial symbol of prestige and authority. The rebels say they have it, and the government claim they do. Leader of the democracy movement, Lai Damron, says it will be destroyed when they take office, marking a symbolic end to calcified tradition. Or is that propaganda spread by current president Narcia Ugan, who wants to turn the Combine against Damron by painting him as eager to destroy a galactic heritage relic? Can the lasers find the thing that dreams are made of? When they do, how to they prove that they have the authentic replica?


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A scenario premise for Ashen Stars

The lasers take a contract to stop an isolated planetary despot from starting a disastrous, self-destructive war. The mystery: how to do that.

Since the Mohilar War the the planet Endemia has retreated from the rest of the Bleed. Their economy locked into a failed policy of self-determination, its people suffer utter deprivation. As far as anyone can tell, given the way the end of that war scrambled memories of its key events, Endemia, like the Durugh, allied with the foes of the Combine, the now forcibly forgotten Mohilar. It split away from Democir, a culturally similar twin planet in the same system that remained loyal to their mutual Terran heritage. Endemian leaders have rewritten history to argue that their former brothers were in fact the betrayers, whose slanders have unfairly blackened the reputation of an entire world.

Years of isolation have left Endemia’s already ragtag armaments and ships in a shocking state of disrepair. But no one wants to tell that to their paranoid, perpetually enemy-hunting Global Emperor Xongta III. Omnipresent propaganda machine has told a generation of starving citizens that they still field a mighty space navy. Now, spurred on by internal politics no outsiders have the inside info to parse, the Endemian politburo prepares to launch a massive assault against the hated Democirs. As soon as the Endemian fleet meets the resistance posed by their wealthy and well-equipped targets, hundreds of thousands of its ill-trained conscripts will die. “Like balls of paper hitting a wall of flame,” as one military analyst puts it.

An Endemian ex-pat puts out a laser contract looking for a team to stop this doomed assault from ever leaving the launch pads. before it begins. Can your lasers penetrate this fear-driven, closed society and stop its leader from bringing disaster upon his people? Once on the ground, do they limit their actions to the terms of the contract, or try to do more and topple Xongta II from his precarious perch?

Ripped from this headline.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

From the planet Sumter the call goes out: the wargames are on. Before the Mohilar War, Sumter existed as a synthculture planet. It appealed to both permanent and transient populations wishing to relive the period of the US Civil War, including its major battles. Those reenactments took place with fake weapons and robust technological safeguards.

Sumpter’s new martial sports unfold in a hail of live, lethal fire. They attract damaged and discontented veterans of the past war who feel they fit in only when fighting for their lives. Remaining 19th-century trappings include uniforms and energy beam rifles shaped like muskets. Most combatants regard these as irrelevant curiosities. The war they’re here to relive isn’t ancient history, but is torn from their own biographies.

Your laser crew has been hired to find an enlistee in the upcoming wargames. Former atmospheric paratrooper Xino Voss intends to fight until she dies. Haunted by the wartime loss of her comrades, for which she blames herself, she aims to go down in a blaze of glory.

Her rich and terminally ill mother has other ideas. She wants the lasers to find her daughter, administer her anti-trauma meds (forcibly if necessary) and extract her before she achieves her death wish. That requires them to wade onto the games’ vast playing field, half a continent of live fire zone. There the green and purple teams fight to the death as pieces in a brutal struggle devoid of strategic goals or political meaning. Once the lasers step into the playing space, they become targets for both sides. If they’re there, they’re worth points, even if they wear the armbands of neither side.

Investigation involves finding the target, identifying a safe way to approach her, figuring out how to get her out against her will, and then escaping intact. Along the way, they might also discover the formless energy parasite who is stoking the wargames in order to nourish itself on the agony of death and the adrenaline of combat. Neutralizing the parasite ends the wargame, as the vast majority of players realizes they’ve been acting not out of their own desires, but due to the siren psychic call of an alien intelligence.


Ashen Stars is a gritty space opera game where freelance troubleshooters solve mysteries, fix thorny problems, and explore strange corners of space — all on a contract basis. The game includes streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues’ gallery of NPC threats and hostile species, and a short adventure to get you started. Purchase Ashen Stars in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Xenoarchaeology!_cover_400

Xeno-Archaeology!

“No other ancient city on Mars had been laid out in that manner; and the strange, many-terraced buttresses of the thick walls, like the stairways of forgotten Anakim, were peculiar to the prehistoric race that had built Yoh-Vombis.”

From the Face on Mars to Precursor artifacts orbiting dead quasars, the mysteries of space aren’t all astrophysical. For some answers, you have to dig. Ruins — of cities, starships, and planets — hold danger and horror, riches and knowledge. What a lost species or a cunning GM can build, bold exo-archaeologists and their players can uncover.

Xeno-Archaeology! includes new Ashen Stars content, like

  • New assignments, like Digger and Radar
  • New crew packages, Lingos, Gravers, and Derecks
  • New ships, like the Sherlock, and the Alexandria
  • New tech
  • New Active RFPs

Praise for Ken Writes About Stuff,

The content of KWAS is top-notch, as one would expect from a RPG luminary like Kenneth Hite” –Daniel D.

brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo” – Bill Templeton

Xeno-Archaeology! is the fifth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to buy in the webstore now. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Xeno-Archaeology! is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH19D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Emilien Francois Pages: 11pg PDF

Buy

A while back we learned of the vials of supposedly destroyed smallpox virus that turned up in a laboratory storage room in Bethesda, Maryland. Luckily, no one was exposed to the deadly disease, allowing us to guiltlessly mine the incident for scenario inspiration. How you might use it depends on the game you’re currently running:

Ashen Stars: The lasers get a contract to find out what happened to an archaeological survey team tasked to explore the ancient alien ruins of the outlying world Cophetus. They arrive to find the team’s base, with evidence that they had located the tomb of a great emperor and were set to open its entry hatches. The team’s interpretation of the hieroglyphs found on the side of the complex alert them to a different story—this was the tomb of the ancient pathogen that nearly extinguished this mystery civilization. Can the team learn enough to locate, rescue and decontaminate the archaeologists before they succumb to the disease—or spread it to the stars?

Mutant City Blues: Conspiracy blogger Warner Osterman is found dead in your jurisdiction, a .22 bullet in his brain. His last story was about finding serum sample vials in a disused military laboratory. According to the contents of his laptop, Osterman believed these contained a version of the disease that caused people around the world to gain super powers ten years ago. That’s the angle that gets the case assigned to the HCIU. Did Osterman die because he got too close to the secret of the Sudden Mutation Event? Or just because he made people think he did?

Dying Earth: Locals in an isolated village your neer-do-wells happen to traipse through run a lucrative sideline in waylaying treasure hunters. When visitors come, they let slip the presence of an ancient treasure vault, one they pretend to be too superstitious to venture near. Over many years they’ve learned the right words to trigger the greed of arrogant freebooters. The adventurers head off to plunder the ancient temple, which in fact is the repository of an enervating energy left behind by a heedlessly experimental arch-magician. The magical plague kills off the visitors. Then, armed with protective amulets, villagers head on down to strip their corpses of valuables. Can our anti-heroes escape the fate of so many likeminded troublemakers before them. If so, do they turn the tables on the rubes who so impertinently used their own greed against them?

NASA’s Cassini probe has detected any icy object in Saturn’s rings that may be a nascent moon.

The small object may already be falling apart, making for a story less less impressive than the “baby moon” headlines suggest. So let’s fix that by ripping it from the science headlines for Ashen Stars.

The lasers snag a contract to investigate and retrieve the object of an unusual theft. The Xeno-Eco Foundation a balla-run organization created to curb environmental crimes in the Bleed, hires the crew to find out who stole a moon. Remote probes located in the Athos Outzone detected the formation of a new moon in the rings of the gas giant Ninurta. They also spotted what looked like a battered hauler entering the rings, capturing it with a tractor beam, and taking it away. In accordance with Combine anti-poaching laws, the Xeno-Ecos want the moon pirates identified and their ship destroyed. As a bonus, they hope that the lasers can restore the moon to its rightful spot around Ninurta.

The twist comes when the lasers use stellar forensics to track the missing moon to its new location just outside the absorption zone of a black hole. The hauler that stole it belongs to the ragtag, wayfaring fleet of a nufaith colony. Its adherents believe that Ninurta is the material manifestation of an evil goddess destined to devour the known galaxy. Whenever Ninurta births a moon, they believe, it is their duty to take it away and destroy it, before it blossoms fully into a marauding engine of death that will eventually undo the big bang and unravel the universe. As the lasers arrive, sect leaders have commenced the multi-day ritual, after which they’ll tip the baby moon into the black hole.

How do the lasers reconcile the conflict between ecological protection and sincerely held religious belief?

Gar O'BrienUnder the glorious new regimen, my articles get upgraded to a column with a running title, which is like an academic getting tenure. Bear with me a moment while I suckle at the pelgrane’s noisome teat.

* * *

Accretion Disk, the Ashen Stars expansion book, continues to live up to its name. More and more motes of text are drawn inexorably into the gravity well of the project folder, and there’s a huge chapter on abilities by the masterful Kevin Kulp that’s about to slam into the existing draft.

Adding detail to the Ashen Stars system and setting opens up the possibility of running other styles of science fiction adventure. Of course, the default setup of ‘licensed freelance problem-solvers’ can bleed into any of these styles.

Space Traders

The PCs are the crew of a small tramp starship, bouncing from system to system taking on whatever cargoes and passengers they can find. One week, they’re delivering terraforming equipment to a new colony; next, it’s a cargo load of cryogenically frozen space cows, or a few hundred metric tons of chemical waste, or just a bunch of mysterious sealed containers. GMs and players with an interest in speculative economics could explore the weirdness of a super-high-tech post-scarcity economy suddenly feeling the bite of scarcity again. Another interesting wrinkle is the change in the characters’ legal standing – they don’t have badges or any legal authority, so they’ll have to be careful about staying on the right sight of the law.

Investigative abilities are used to spot business opportunities, to solve problems when delivering cargoes, and to deal with troublesome clients, so stock up on Bargain and Assess Honesty. In this setup, the characters rarely get regularly contracts – they’ve got to support themselves solely with freight or other trading contracts, which means a high Business Affairs to keep gaps between missions to a minimum.

The anarchic nature of the post-war Bleed means the characters are kept busy in the early part of the campaign, bringing supplies and exploiting opportunities to profit from the chaos. As law and order return, the megacorporations expand back out from the Combine. When they seize control of trade routes and contracts, it becomes clear that the small free traders like the PCs are going to be squeezed out of existence. Do the characters try to stay ahead of the megacorporations by running out to the fringes of known space, or do they try to protect their lifestyles by stirring up instability and chaos in the Bleed?

 

Let’s Be Bad Guys

You could either borrow from Firefly, and have a crew of semi-legitimate traders who occasionally turn to crime, or go all the way and play a gang of specialized thieves (space pirates)! GUMSHOE works great for crime if you flip some of the investigative abilities around so they’re about concealing evidence instead of finding it. So, you now use Holo Surveillance to avoid being picked up by sensors, or Decryption to conceal your transmissions from law enforcement, or Evidence Collection to make sure you collect all the evidence of your intrusion before you leave. (This twist works very well in other GUMSHOE games, like Trail of Cthulhu – bootlegging Boozehounds of Innsmouth, anyone?)

 

Ashen Troopers

The characters are all soldiers in the Combine’s armed forces. As roleplaying games work best when the players have the freedom to get themselves into horrible trouble, they either start on some sort of detached duty (‘we’re an elite commando unit that lands on enemy-occupied worlds, gathers intelligence, then sabotages the planet’s defences in advance of the landing’) or get separated from their regular chain of command in the first session of the game. Optionally, borrow some Thriller Combat rules from Night’s Black Agents, and Accretion Disk adds plenty of new equipment that becomes military gear when given a coat of reactive camouflage.

And who are they fighting? Bleedist separatists? Nufaith terrorists? Hostile Class-K aliens like the Jaggar, Nanogons or Phyllax? Or hostile galactic powers, like the bizarre Crysolis gestalts or the crumbling tinpot dictatorship of the Galactoid Legionnaires? You could even go back to the Mohilar War, and pit the characters against durugh and Combine turncoats, leading up to a final confrontation with the Mohilar themselves!

 

Brave New Worlds

Your continuing mission is to take a small scoutship into the unexplored reaches of the Bleed, and survey whatever planets you encounter. You won’t be alone out there – in addition to unscrupulous rival explorers and prospectors, you might run into hostile aliens, refugees who fled the war, durugh fleets who refused to follow their king’s command to switch sides, lost starships, temporal anomalies, and the remains of long-vanished civilisations. On each world, you must assemble a thorough survey report, which means scanning it from orbit, then flying down in your shuttle to gather samples and investigate any indigent cultures or mysterious sensor glitches.

You’re even authorized to make first contact on behalf of the Combine with any newly-discovered intelligent species. Just try not to start the next war…

 

 

In the latest episode of their visionary podcast, Ken and Robin talk space opera RPGing, Jorge Luis Borges, Storyscape and Andrew Jackson Davis.

See P. XX

A column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

With Kevin Kulp’s TimeWatch RPG blasting through Kickstarter as only a chronoton can, you may be asking yourself if you can put time travel in other GUMSHOE games. We at Pelgrane are not in the business of telling you not what not to do with GUMSHOE. (Unless you want to use it to light your Hibachi indoors. In which case, don’t do that.)

That caveated, here’s how you might do it in the various existing GUMSHOE settings.

The Esoterrorists/Fear Itself/Trail of Cthulhu

One of my favorite treatments of time travel comes, of all places, from an old Batman comic. And not during a cool Batman phase, but from the kooky silver age. In that story, the details of which my memory is doubtless mangling, Batman and Robin go back in time hypnotically. (In fact, now Googling “Batman time travel”, I find that I like this idea because I’m remembering it wrong.) In my memory’s mistaken version of how this works, they possess the bodies of their ancestors, who happen to be conveniently located and remarkably similar in appearance in ancient Rome, the old west, the Viking era and so on.

Lovecraft likewise treats time travel as a mental journey, making it the specialty of the Great Race of Yith. In a Trail game you need go no further than to have a series of weird murders committed by a victim of Yithian possession. When the investigators capture the first suspect, the Yithian simply jumps to someone else—perhaps a PC whose player is absent that session—and forges ahead with the mayhem. To really shut down the Yithian menace, the group must figure out what the entity is trying to accomplish, and then take action to ensure that it is no longer possible. Otherwise the body-hopping from the ancient past continues.

Scrubbing the Mythos detail from this idea for The Esoterrorists or Fear Itself allows you to reverse the direction of travel. Outer Dark Entities come from the future, when they have already breached the membrane, to create the conditions that will later allow them to breach the membrane. They can’t travel directly into this time, but possess those emotionally destabilized by Esoterror provocations. Again the problem is that stopping one meat-form merely slows them down, requiring them to find a suitably vulnerable replacement. The definitive solution depends on rendering what changes they’re trying to wreak in the timestream impossible. After the Veil-Out, the Ordo Veritatis might take temporary relief in the thought that they’ve prevented a future in which their demonic foes win. But plenty of additional ways for them to do it remain, as a fresh manifestation quickly demonstrates.

Mutant City Blues

The conceit in this mutant-powered police procedural is that all weird abilities are already well explicated by science. If you do want to invent a mutant time travel ability you have to find a spot for on the Quade Diagram. Somewhere out near sector F00, where the weirdo dream manipulation appears, might fit the bill. You also want to establish the effects of time manipulation as already measurable, if not fully understood. So perhaps a time distortion field might emit some sort of radiation that enters the bloodstream, or induce over-production of a particular preexisting hormone. As members of the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit you can perform tests on tissue samples to determine whether victims, alive or on a morgue examination table, were exposed to time altering energies. Finding out who committed the time crime would then be a matter of finding out which local mutant miscreant has the mutation in question. That said, given the down-and-gritty reality level of Mutant City Blues superheroics I would be inclined to make time travel something that tantalizingly almost seems to exist, until the detectives get to the real truth of the matter. Perhaps false rumors of time travel could be connected to the alien beings some people in the world credit with the Sudden Mutant Event that created all weird powers.

Ashen Stars

The space opera setting of Ashen Stars seems tailor-made for timey-wimey activities. Like several sources of its inspiration, it includes godlike aliens. Or at least there used to be godlike aliens, the Vas Kra, who have devolved into the all-too-moral vas mal. And with those in the mix, even if only in the setting’s past, anything can happen. That allows you to nod to this key genre element without introducing brain-cracking paradoxes that rightly belong in TimeWatch territory. Needless to say the shift from universe with time travel to universe without would be an outcome of the Mohilar War. We might take a cue here from the current, degraded morphologies of the Vas Mal, the former godlike aliens. Now they look like classic UFO grays, which hook up to the motif of missing time. Perhaps in the Ashen Stars universe, missing time derives not from hypnosis or erased memories but from proximity to time travel and its contradictions in minds not capable of handling it. Back in the 20th century, when the Vas Kra came to earth to meddle with the human mind, those taken up into their vessels suffered gaps in understanding because they brushed too close with their transtemporal natures. This leads to the theory, oft-mooted by residents of the Bleed, that the Vas Kra ended the Mohilar War by interfering massively in the past of those forgotten beings. It explains how the war ended, how the Vas Kra lost so much energy that they had to devolve, and why no one remembers that this happened. The fear that this is so leads at least one powerful movement to oppose all efforts by the vas mal to reconstitute themselves, lest time travel come back, unleashing chaos throughout the cosmos—maybe bringing back the Mohilar, too.

Night’s Black Agents

What if the vampires are time travelers? They’re humans who, sometime in the future, discovered how to move through time. Problem: doing so warped their bodies. They became vulnerable to sunlight and had to drink the blood of humans uncontaminated by chrono-energy to survive. Their added strength and resistance to damage (except to the brain or heart) hardly counts as a fair trade. So they send agents back to the past, to prevent the chain of events that leads to their own development of time technology. Stopping those events requires a grand upsetting of the geopolitical power structure. To achieve this they must penetrate and destroy the world’s intelligence agencies. The PCs know too much about this, even if they don’t believe the truth, and hence find themselves on the run from somewhat sympathetic vampires from the future. Who still want to pulp them and take nourishment from their juices.

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