Friday, May 26, 2017

Arsallum

System: Arsallum
Hex Location: 2333
Star Type: Single M5 V
Number of Worlds: 8
Gas Giants: N
Planetoid Belt: Cometary belt

Starport Type: B
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Medium (400 million)
Political Affiliation: Vorgan Than Viceroyalty (Seraean Empire)
Tags: Regional dominance, Warlock Academy, Tomb World
Notes: The capital world of the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty and the oldest settlement in the Vorgan Than.  In fact, it's the whole reason that the Empire turned its gaze this direction in the first place; as they allied with scattered Old Ones cults, the Idacharians wanted to reclaim an old world that they had once controlled from the time of the Old Kingdoms, before even the rise of the Marian Empire.  Arsallum had been abandoned for many centuries, with the exception of scattered reports of bands of pirates or worse.  An expedition sponsored by the Empire, but staffed with more Idacharians than Seraeans came to Arsallum, cleared the planet of its refuse, and established new colonies.

Ancient Idacharian tomb
What they found was that the planet was a vast graveyard; millions of old tombs of Idacharians dating back thousands of years were piled across the dry, rocky surface.  Death sages had picked over much of the world in past years, looting tombs when possible, stealing even the bodies in some cases.  But there was a treasure trove of information about the Old One cult, its early years, and the daemons and other malevolent entities from the Outer Darkness that the early cult was familiar with—much of which had been lost in the intervening years.  This isn't always a good thing, even for occultists, as learning about these entities often calls their attention, and many do not survive even hearing of them, much less learning how to make any use of the occult knowledge the old cult used to have.

Modern Imperial archaeologists estimate that they've only barely scratched the surface of what can yet be discovered here in terms of occult information.  This prompted a flood of interested warlocks and others.  The colonial bureaucracy is second only to guilds that sponsor exploration and categorization of the many, many tombs on Arsallum, and the Arsallum Academy; one of the finest warlock academies in the entire New Alderamin sector (if one that's fairly sinister compared to many others.)

Arsallan cyber-corpse
Alongside the colonists, the haunted graveyards that make up much of the continental interiors (the modern settlements are mostly on the coastlines of the modest seas and oceans that Arsallum does have) gravely disquieting wildlife roams the landscape; much of it clearly the result of thaumaturgical experimentation, or cross-breeding with monstrous DNA from beyond the confines of the normal universe.  Lingering pirates may yet have strongholds in the barren wastes, and there are even old settlements of those who succumbed to madness while exploring the ruins, and yet live in oddly dysfunctional yet lingering villages of the insane.  Death sages still come here, and some may yet linger from before the establishment of the colony, which is not surprising, given the proximity to Voormellei, although they are rare.

The general lack of moral compass associated with the death sages and the Imperials both has meant that a great many disturbing things have come out of the research on Arsallum.  One of the worst is a new kind of cyber-corpse zombie-like drone that can serve as a menial, as a foot soldier, or in any number of other capacities.  They are not hard or expensive to create, so on Arsallum (and increasingly elsewhere in Vorgan Than and elsewhere among Imperials) they are taking the roles that robots serve in other cultures.

The Vorgans particularly like to turn the corpses of their enemies into cyber-corpses, to better intimidate them if they can.  This has occasionally backfired, and Arsallum has endured a few raids, and even more serious events that bordered on turning to war with the Carrick and the Reavers, and a few others, but in general, things have calmed down in recent years.  There are still numerous cyber-corpses on Arsallum, however, and those from there frequently travel with them.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Khirunizan

System: Khirunizan
Hex Location: 2332
Star Type: Single L1
Number of Worlds: 12
Gas Giants: 1
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belt

Starport Type: C
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 30%
Population: Medium sized (c. 890 million)
Political Affiliation: Vorgan Than Viceroyalty (Seraean Empire)
Tags: Primitive aliens, Thaumatophilia, Cold war
Notes: Khirunizan is a world around an extraordinarily dim brown dwarf star.  Although the Vorgan Than has settled the world, there were already natives living here; humanoid, but with longer, narrower heads and large black eyes, called the Khirlings.  The Khirlings had complex and sophisticated nations of their own, but their technology was still several centuries away from uncovering any of the secrets of space-flight (more or less equivalent to early 19th century Europe).  When the Seraeans came with their orbital bombardments, sophisticated drop ships, radium weapons, and various thaumaturges: warlocks and Shadow Knights, they conquered the planet in fairly short order.

Khirling temple
The Khirlings are just now getting to the point where they understand the difference between the technology and the thaumaturgy, however.  For many years, they lived in terror of magic, and the Seraeans represented magic.  They gave whatever tribute, whatever service, whatever obeisances were necessary—because if they didn't, they'd be killed.  This is only just now starting to wear off.  Resistance groups to Seraean occupation are starting to pop up, usually deep in the interior, far from the Seraean settlements, but they know that this distance is no salvation; the Seraeans can easily travel to any place on the surface that they wish.  The only question is; do they want to bother or not?

The Seraeans largely ignore the Khirlings, except as a cheap and expendable source of manual labor.  They maintain their own "plantation culture" in their own settlements, and largely concern themselves only with each other, the elites of the rest of the Vorgan Than systems, and any passing interesting folks from the Empire on their way to Outremer or vice versa.

That said, the Seraeans belong to two factions (mostly) that hate each other with a passion.  The first are the Imperials, who preach close association with the Empire and the Emperor.  Their enemies see them as both suck-ups, and a threat to their freedom.  The Free Heathens, they call themselves, chafe under the rigid culture of the Empire; that's one of the main reasons that they moved further to the galactic west in the first place, colonizing new worlds where they could be the masters.  Three generations ago, this came to a head, and Kar Tanus I formed the First Umbral Crusade and went conquering with his own personal troops, vast legions of slaves, and a few tough mercenaries (mostly Cilindareans.)  The result was the founding of the Outremer region.  Those who remained in the Vorgan Than seethed with envy; many others organized their own crusades and expanded Outremer.  But few forgot that Khirunizan was where Kar Tanus started.  The tension between these two factions has grown tremendously in the last thirty years, and they now have self-sorted into differing settlements on the surface of the planet.  Although the conflict is mostly at a dull roar; duels, raids, political maneuvering, espionage, etc., one never knows.  The Seraeans are in general a brutal, pitiless, and impulsive people.  The rest of the Vorgan Than wonders if Khirunizan will break out in open warfare between the various city-states on the surface.  Rather than being concerned by this, the Vorgan Than's elites are eager to see what happens.  Many are in fact placing extremely high bets on when violence will erupt, the scope of the violence, and the results.

The weak brown dwarf sun of Khirunizan rises over sandstone cliffs.
Unlike Sorthor, the Heathens of Khirunizan welcome all kinds of visitors as a kind of exotic entertainment, even people from what would be considered their natural enemies.  Bernese, Cilindarean, Jannisary, Psarian, Altairan, Reaver, and Jaffans, not to mention plenty of types of aliens all live here in small numbers, in relative peace.  The Heathens tolerate them as long as there are few enough of them that they cannot possibly compete with them for cultural primacy in their own cities, and enjoy the spice of exotica that they bring.  Some even become celebrated (if faddish) causes célèbres and are feted at all the right parties.  Often, and others might see this is ironic, the most popular are those who fought the most successfully against other heathens in Outremer.  Twin brothers, Kovor and Entek Dania, Altairan knights who successfully fought off Heathen occupation of Traaknizar and Kattura (0336 and 0537) and killed hundreds of Seraeans each in personal combat, were celebrated for an entire year and became the envy of the Seraean men, the recipients of extremely rich tribute, and the objects of lust and devotion to hordes of Seraean women while visiting.  At the end of their visit, they were so impressed with the culture of Khirunizan, that they found their attitudes towards their Outremer foes considerably softened, and broke with the weak rulers of the Altairan Ascendency (South), coming to view them with little more than contempt, and openly allied themselves with their would-be conquerors—albeit as equals, not as subjects.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sorthor

System: Sorthor
Hex Location: 2331
Star Type: Single M3 V
Number of Worlds: 12
Gas Giants: 6
Planetoid Belt: Cometary belt

Starport Type: E
World Size: Asteroid sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 40%
Population: Medium (c. 1 million)
Political Affiliation: Vorgan Than Viceroyalty (Seraean Empire)
Tags: Xenophobia, Thaumatophilia, Eugenic mania
A cyberlich with a replaced skull
Notes: An infrequently visited colonial world belonging to the Vorgan Than Viceroyalty, Sorthor is one of the more unusual worlds in the sector.  Located on a smallish, Ceres-sized moon of the gas giant Tavvia, a ringed planet who sheds a cloud of gas and dust into the orbits of the moons, coating them in strange dust and creating spectacular sunsets (which, given the red dwarf star, are already pretty darn spectacular compared to yellow suns such as on Earth.  In spite of its relatively small size, Sorthor has been massively terraformed by both thaumaturgy and technology; incarnated gravitic spells cover the entire surface of Sorthor, giving it near Earth equivalent gravity (although these spells do not extend very far upwards, and the gravity and atmosphere thin tremendously with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain.)  Water tugged to the world from comets in the Kuiper belt and melted on the surface provides shallow lakes and small seas.  The surface is relatively rocky, but imported vegetation does grow in strange fungal and coral-like forests, lawns of green grass provide grazing fodder for herds of imported thoats and zitidars, and there are even a few predators that roam the world.

Originally created to be the secret base of a renegade Death Sage, the arrival of the Colorless (also known as the Imperials, heathens, or Seraeans to the rest of known space) brought an end to his rule; warlocks and Shadow Knights, as well as Imperial troops, annihilated the Death Sage's undead servitors to the last shambling corpse, and the cyberlich was drawn, quartered and burned.

More cyberliches have since come to Sorthor, looking for the legacy of Sath Yogguath, the Death Sage who created Sorthor from a lifeless rock, but they made alliance with the warlocks and Shadow Knights, and joined them as equals in the search for more unclean power and understanding of the Outer Darkness and its ways.  Today, many such live among the Imperial heathens and along with the warlocks and Shadow Knights, run the society of Sorthor.  People without any form of "the Gift" are common, but pitied somewhat by the more generous; seen as completely expendable by the rest.  They make up a vast underclass on Sorthor while the warlocks, cyberliches and Shadow Knights hold almost all of the power and wealth.

There is little in the way of facilities for visitors to Sorthor.  Unrefined fuel, cracked from water, or picked up and perfunctorily scrubbed of the worst of its dust from the scattered dust and gas torus that Sorthor orbits in is about it; most visitors are better served simply skimming the outer atmosphere of Tavvia itself, or one of the other many gaseous worlds in the system.  With the exception of Seraean warlocks or Shadow Knights (and some grudging acceptance of other warlocks or psionic knights, especially Idacharians) nobody else is really very welcomed on Sorthor anyway.  they maintain a cultural isolation that is second to few in the region, and non-Gifted who are non-native are treated with extreme prejudice, and run the risk of being lynched without warning if they step even a tiny bit out of line.  The only exceptions to this are mercenaries brought by various Knights or other Lords for various reasons, which do pass through Sorthor on occasion; but which usually stay in neighborhoods reserved for their use as much as possible.

Perhaps it is the friendly relationship with the cyberliches, and the integration of some of them into the ruling caste, but cybernetics is a bit of a fetish with Sorthoreans, and it is rare to find someone who (if they can afford it) doesn't feature at least some designer cybernetic gear.  Indeed, the ruling caste is cybernetic almost to a man, but even the lower castes see it as the fashionable thing to do if one can.  In fact, the cybersurgeons of Sorthor are so practiced and have such a good reputation that people come from far and wide (especially Imperial citizens) to get their grafts done here, and if one needs or wants cybernetic grafts, Sorthorean cybernetics are widely considered the best available.

Sunset on a lonely wilderness lake on Sorthor.

Fotta Zonaii

System: Fotta Zonaii
Hex Location: 2133
Star Type: Double (distant) M1 V, M2 V
Number of Worlds: 5, 12
Gas Giants: 4 (hot Jupiter), 1
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belt, Cometary belt

Starport Type: A
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 10%
Population: Medium-sized (900 million)
Political Affiliation: Independent
Tags: Sealed menace, Civil war, Psionic Knight academy
Revolutionary Guard soldier
Notes: This independent system is an Altairan colony, settled many centuries ago.  Although friendly with the Altairan Ascendency, it did not recognize its political overlordship, and continued to manage itself according to its own laws and customs.  Following the formation of Outremer by adventurous, iconoclast Shadow Knights which conquered many of the Altairan worlds and split what was left of the Ascendency into two pieces, refugees were scattered in many directions, but a significant number—tens of millions, at least—came here.  At first welcomed, as they became somewhat integrated into Zonaiian society, it became clear that ethnic solidarity was insufficient on its own.  The Ascendency refugees and their descendants were culturally quite distinct from the Zonaiians, and their preferred policy was one of greater militarism, authoritarianism, and aggressiveness towards Imperial forces and colonies in particular.  The Vorgan Than Viceroyalty is usually seen as the most expeditious target, and one that needs to be neutralized before attention can be turned to Outremer.  As tensions rise with Vorgan Than, the original natives, who largely belong to the Isolationist political party (over 65%) find themselves in bitter dispute with the descendants of the refugees.  This has spilled out into open civil war as the two factions struggle to decide which vision of Fotta Zonaii will prevail.  The conservative Isolationist faction, led by King Andaic Scrome was initially caught off guard that the Revolutionary Guard party would actually attempt a coup, and lost a great deal of ground initially.

Visiting Fotta Zonaii during this period of upheaval is not recommended; the situation is quite dangerous. That said, some do—and actually people (especially Altairans) have come in small numbers to train in an ancient Altairan knight tradition which is maintained on Fotta Zonaii but largely derelict elsewhere.  This isn't really an "academy" per se; rather, there are small communities here and there of masters of the Carga Kaloo arts, and those who wish to learn them seek a master and pledge themselves as apprentices.  Each master teaches only 1-5 or so apprentices as a rule; many will take none.  Although this is a traditional Altairan art, not all apprentices (and graduated masters) are necessarily Altairan.  Many masters point to the tradition being older than the Altairan Ascendency and truthfully belonging to the Marians (of which the Altairans were only one component.)

There are a number of Quarantine Zones on Fotta Zonaii as well, that have been quarantined nearly since settlement.  In the early days of the Zonaiian colonization and terraforming of the planet, strange debris was found scattered in some areas of the planet—the wreckage of ancient crashed space-ships, almost destroyed to the point of unrecognizableness.  It appears that these ancient ships were carrying something sinister, though—scientific experiments that attempted to bring some kind of thoroughly foreign entities from the Outer Darkness into our world and hybridize them with more familiar DNA.  Strange tentacled and chitinous creatures that had the vague form of a man, most locked in some kind of suspended animation still linger in nearly indestructible pods.  The colonists have tried to destroy these, but this tends to backfire; many entire settlements were obliterated in the early days of colonization; even "nuking from orbit" seems to have only made these quiescent rather than destroyed.  Zonaiian scientists blame the incredibly high tech and even thaumaturgical construction that bridges both the normal space-time universe and the Outer Darkness at the same time as the source of their durability.

The more concerning fact about these, of course, is that in the madness of fanaticism, Esean Kroni, the leader of the Revolutionary Guard, is actively ignoring the quarantine zones, trying to find these capsules.  Whether he wants to use them as a weapon on the Isolationists, or on the Vorgan Than is unclear, but luckily, he hasn't yet appeared to have found any.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Now what's next for Ad Astra?

I had earlier said that I was going to waaaaay scale back my system detailing; but I'm finding that the simple addition of world tags has made that not only much more streamlined, but much more interesting, varied and easy.  I'm thinking that I might actually do a bit more "world building" than I had initially planned before I lay off.

I am going to concentrate on a few particular areas, and I am going to specifically leave some of my color-coded hexes blank so that I have lebensraum for world building later, as needed.  (Heh.)

But what have I got so far?

  • Carrick Grand Marches—a Bernese colony, 7 worlds
    • 1928 Eliane
    • 2026 Shahar
    • 2027 Lyrae VI
    • 2028 Jhantor
    • 2127 New Vesta
    • 2128 Tethys
    • 2129 Gesium
  • The Voormellei Federation—a much more alien nation, loosely allied to the Bernese (4 worlds)
    • 2029 Miroon
    • 2130 Voormellei
    • 2229 Neferre
    • 2230 Tekeli-li
  • The Carthen Colony; a rather tensely held group of systems claimed by the Revanchists—often against the will of the natives (6 worlds)
    • 1731 Metium
    • 1825 Muda Meko
    • 1826 Corvi VII
    • 1827 Beodon
    • 1926 Riesefels
    • 1931 Hata
  • Independent system 2131 Freeport
Total: 18 worlds so far.

If I stick to "neighboring" areas, that means I need to do the Principality of Tan Kajak and the other little Imperial colony that borders on Tekeli-li, but which for some reason I didn't name yet next.  (8 worlds)  Then I've got a few republic allied systems (1727 and 1933) and at least a few of the independent neighbors (2133 and 2430).  A few of the Dhangetan worlds (1627, 1631, 1925, 2224 and the strip of four worlds 2326 to 2428.)  I probably want to avoid getting all the way to the Takach Kingdom and the Emerus Marches, because if I do, I'll end up feeling obligated to start doing all of Outremer, etc.—that's probably more than I want to bite off right now.

Twenty more worlds.  I'm still slightly under 50% of even this modest goal.*  After that, I'll probably stop doing Star Mapping Data Sheets for a little while and doing something else.  I can always come back to the sector and do more later, but I'll have plenty for the meantime.

*Well, I've also done about ten that were based on my old STAR WARS REMIXED setting stuff.

Hata

Hata Carinan
System: Hata
Hex Location: 1931
Star Type: Triple (all distant) M4 V, A6 V, A3 III
Number of Worlds: 11, 13, 3
Gas Giants: 5, 2, 3
Planetoid Belt: Each star has cometary and asteroid belts, A6 V and A3 III have two asteroid belts each

Starport Type: E
World Size: Larger than Earth
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 50%
Population: Large (3 billion)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Tags: Feral world, Psionic Knight academy, Mining World
Notes: Hata is another mineral rich world that the Revanchists are eager to exploit to support the farther "north" watery worlds of the Carthen colony.  It's a bit more challenging for Hata than it is for nearby Metium, however.  Like Metium, Hata is sufficiently separated from any other Republic system that traveling to it requires either risky "big jumps" or stopping somewhere politically unfriendly to refuel.  This isolation makes it very difficult to deal with these two more far-flung systems in the Carthen Colony, and contributes to tension between the Revanchists and the Monarchists.  If a Carrick world, or an allied Voormellei Federation world such as Eliane, Jhantor or Miroon be swayed to join the Revanchists (or be conquered) the republic would have a viable space-lane from Beodon to Hata, and from there to Metium.  Of course, they couldn't possibly seize Eliane without provoking an aggressive response from the Monarchy, they would struggle to even seize rich and populous Jhantor at all, and would spark and even more hostile response from the Monarchy if they tried, and Miroon would be problematic for a number of reasons—but it offers the best alternative from a suite of bad alternatives.

But this has only an indirect impact on Hata.  See; to be honest, Hata is a bad stepping stone to Metium to begin with, and the Republic needs to figure out some way to "pacify" it.  Settled many generations ago by Carinan ogres and Oerk hulks, Hata went feral during the Dark Ages, before the Revanchists claimed the system.  The two races have been locked in bitter, tribal style warfare for generations now, and raiding, slavery, torture, rape, cannibalism and more are everyday facts of life for them.  They tend to have little patience for the weak little Republic troops, who can barely even walk comfortably in the high gravity environment of Hata, although they do respect their war machines' ability to deal death effectively.  However, the Revanchists have trouble deploying on Hata, because of the aforementioned issue.  Caught in a bitter catch-22, the Revanchists need Miroon (or some other stepping stone) to fully pacify Hata and bring it to bear so that their mining operations can supply systems to the north, but they need Hata pacified before they can afford to stick their necks out and make a play for the conquest of one of those worlds.  Carthen Colony republic governor Abembo Gama doesn't yet know how to deal with this catch-22, but it frustrates him immensely, and he tends to take it out on the natives of Hata by ordering petty strikes against them, which harden their resistance to being quietly assimilated into the Republic.  The management of Hata is a debacle and major problem with the governor's rule, and his failure to control the situation is starting be noticed by Revanchist superiors.  With his position on the line, Gama is getting desperate, and those who are paying attention are worried that he'll try an increasingly desperate gamble to resolve the situation.

Hata Oerk
It is possible that other mineral wealth exists in the system.  Hata is an unusual triple star system, and the main star around which Hata rotates is a simple red dwarf.  Two hotter white stars also belong to the system, but all three are in sufficiently distant relationships with each other that stable planetary systems exist for all of them.  In fact, all three have asteroid belts (the two white stars even have two each) as well as several rocky, airless (or so it's believed) worlds, and numerous gas giants, some with rocky and/or icy moons.  These subsystems within the Hata system remained relatively unsurveyed, however, and it's not really known what (if any) potential mineral wealth can be found therein.

There is another settlement of sorts in the system, however—a high flying floating city that has gravity generators allowing Earth-standard gravitic performance within the city itself.  It moves slowly (usually, although it is capable of higher speed) and does not keep a very high elevation most of the time; less than 1,000 feet, although sometimes it rises up to over 15,000 for rapid travel.  This is a psionic knight monastery, and it is a unique order; the Order of Saint Simon the Martyr.  It does not train many psionic knights, but it steadfastly proclaims its political neutrality and refuses to align itself with the Revanchists.  This is now another source of potential conflict; the Simonians that often accompany Revanchist military units are not happy with this order, and hate any competition within their claimed space.

Order of Saint Simon the Martyr

A commonly missed point

Another post from Jeffro about D&D and how much Tolkien influenced Gygax.  He's not wrong.  I think the notion that Gygax was indeed not all that thrilled with Tolkien, and only put in a few superficial Tolkien-like elements due to incredibly high demand for such from his players and his customers is probably completely true.  There's really not any good reason to disbelieve Gygax's claims on this subject anymore, in my opinion, and there are really good reasons to take what he says on this at face value.

The interesting thing, though, is how much guys like Jeffro miss the greater point here.  Let me quote just a small segment:
The architect for the sort of rules that form the bedrock of the fantasy role-playing game hobby derive from the works of a dozen fantasy and science fiction authors. Tolkien did play a role in influencing the formation of the game. Nobody argues that. But when the game was being put together, he was not synonymous with fantasy the way he is today. Indeed, in the early seventies he still had not yet displaced Lord Dunsany as being the most influential person in the field. And Gygax is not some kind of outlier in this, either. Tunnels & Trolls has pretty well the same set of literary antecedents. 
Again, Gygax was influenced by Tolkien. But he didn’t much care for the guy’s work. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard are what fired his imagination. And when he sat down to play he was more likely to send his players to the world of Jack Vance’s Planet of Adventure series than to anything resembling Middle-earth. And most people today can’t imagine that being the case. 
I think the game is much more fun when you can...
He thinks the game is much more fun when you can.  But what, if he could imagine it, the vast wave of mainstream customers who came into D&D's fold in the late 70s and early 80s wanted the game to more closely resemble Tolkien?  What if—to them—that was the whole freakin' point?  What if continually telling them that they're doing it wrong, because they need to learn the Gygaxian canon and play according to the proper Gygaxian, ritualistic style of sandbox, mega-dungeon play will never do anything for them other than turn them off?  I get this explicitly because it is exactly my experience.  As a 5-8th grade D&D kid in the early and mid 80s, I had read Burroughs and Howard and Moorcock and Leiber, and even a bit of Vance.  I even liked them a lot (especially Burroughs.)  But what I wanted D&D to give me was the Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander experience, not the Planet of Adventure or Elric experience.  Burroughs is my second favorite author of all time, but Tolkien is still my first.  That's been true since I was 12 years old, at least.  To me, D&D was always disappointing, because it didn't do what I wanted it to do.  I wouldn't have had a better experience had I simply adjusted my demand to what D&D was supplying; I would instead of simply never picked up the hobby at all.

Supply and demand is a two-sided coin.  One common complaint about the American Big Three automotive OEMs during the 70s and early 80s—by coincidence, the same time period in which D&D was achieving mainstream success—is that they ignored demand and assumed that whatever they wanted to build would sell.  What was the end result?  The incredible growth of foreign OEM market share penetration in the American market.  Toyota, Honda, Volkswagon, and more recently Kia, Hyundai, etc. are the direct result of the hubris of GM, Ford and Chrysler.  In like manner, Apple (briefly) dominated the microcomputer market in the late 70s early 80s, in part because they got school contracts—but MS DOS based PCs eventually ate their lunch and replaced them.  Only to be in turn replaced by tablet and hand-held device based computers, many made (again) by Apple.  Market dominance can be a fickle thing, and the only way to gain and maintain it is to understand what the customer wants to buy; not necessarily what you want to make and sell to them.  The computer experience is interesting, because it shows that by a clever trick, you can influence to some degree what the customer wants to buy; get kids used to Apple computers by cornering the market on school computer contracts, for instance, was a savvy move.  But it wasn't sufficient.

For all of those OSRians who shake their fist at what has happened to D&D and how wrong and deluded players are today for not playing proper, Gygaxian D&D, and how high fantasy instead of sword & sorcery is the temptation to spiritual damnation, etc.—had D&D not done this, we wouldn't be talking about D&D today.  D&D would be a minor footnote as the one that started it all, but would today look a lot like Tunnels & Trolls—an older, outmoded game with a niche audience that appeals to only a small subset of the hobby.  What we'd be talking about is some other game that during the time of D&D's mainstream growth would instead have eaten D&D's lunch in the market place and relegated D&D to second class citizenship status in the very market that it created—because let's face it; supply didn't lead this parade after D&D created the market.  Demand did.  This is what the customers demanded.  This is what the customers wanted.  And a game that stubbornly refuses to create supply to meet demand; telling all of the customers that they are wrong and that they really should be buying what we're supplying instead of what you want to buy; well, needless to say, that doesn't really work very well.

The OSR really needs to come to grips with the fact that although the game was originally designed to work with a sword & sorcery sandbox feel which (most likely) also coincides with their taste, it is not the only way to play.  It is not the silver bullet that will solve everyone's problems with the game to just accept it the way Gygax wrote it, etc. because there was a vast wave of people who came into the hobby who didn't ever and won't ever want to play that way.  It simply doesn't interest them at all and it never did.  This demand is what D&D evolved to cater to, and any delusions that if D&D had held the line, that the hobby would be a continued Golden Age are just that—delusions.  What would almost certainly have happened was that D&D would have been replaced as the clear market leader decades ago by someone else who was savvy enough to meet demand.

And that isn't meant as a slam against OSR tastes—in most ways, I'm more sympathetic to some of their demands of the game than I am to people who prefer Forgotten Realms, certainly.  But y'know what?  It's not about me, and it's not about you.  It's about mass trends, not individual tastes.  Very few people are interested in playing the game that's perfect for me, either—at least with the OSR and games that liturgically style themselves after Appendix N sources and nothing else, and cater and hew very closely to the original Gygaxian modes of play, you've got a thriving community of like-minded people to play with and to read the material that they create.  I've got to do my own thing, because my own thing is too esoteric to be anything other than my thing.

Jeffro's main thesis online in general is of course more nuanced.  It can be interpreted as saying that our demand is influenced by supply; i.e., our heritage of pulp stories was stolen from us by a hostile publishing industry that had its own agenda.  I think he's also not wrong about that, but there is much more to the story too.  D&D's evolution—the Hickman Revolution if you want to call it that—happened while the pulp stories were still largely in print.  When I was a teenager in the 80s, it was easy to find Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, etc. books in print, because they took up a ton of shelf space at every bookstore.  They weren't out of print yet. Everything on the Appendix N could easily be found in my public library when I was a teenager in the mid and even late 80s.  Heck; Robert Adams Horseclans books and John Norman's Gor books took up tons of shelf space in both bookstores and my library for much of that time.  But so was Terry Brooks, and David Eddings, and Weiss/Hickman.  D&D resembles extruded fantasy product rather than thud and blunder because the market was moving that way due to demand.  It was afterwards, when the sword & sorcery older material was being outsold that hostile publishing and literary and library groups decided to try and purge it from our memory altogether.

And let's face it; while the pulp tradition is an old one, with a fine pedigree, high fantasy (at least when it's done well) has a much older one.  Tolkien was specifically and deliberately calling on the foundational mythology of all of Western civilization to inform what he was writing.  It resonates in a way that pulp will never manage to do.  Now, it's easier to write good pulp, and it's (obviously) easy to really screw up high fantasy, but when you're Tolkien and you write something that's a cultural touchstone equivalent to Wagner's interpretation of Teutonic mythology that influences culture for decades if not centuries.*  That's the real reason extruded fantasy product exists in the first place; it's a bunch of lesser folks desperately trying to imitate the master.  Few of them even have any understanding of why Tolkien is a master, or why his work works, but they know intuitively that it does, so they ape him shamelessly, hoping that even a small portion of his genius will somehow rub off on them.

And that is (apparently) a rather bitter pill for at least some in the OSR to swallow; that the majority of gamers don't want to play what they're offering.  Not because they're brainwashed, but because they just simply have different tastes.

* We'll see for Tolkien, but Der Ring is already over 140 years old, and still a major influence on literature, music, and more.  I think Tolkien's work is just as iconic myself, but time will tell.  Probably after my lifetime.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another "Secret History" quote

Still fascinating reading, although I set it aside for a few days.  Picked up the narrative again after Star Wars is released and Lucas is starting the early approach to the sequel by writing an outline or pre-draft "treatment" for a script.
As you can see, the basic story of the film is fairly similar to what ended up on the screen; only the details changed, and until the last quarter the plot is exactly alike.  You will notice that there is no "I am your father revelation" in Lucas' outline. Nor would there be in the first draft screenplay.  This is the most crucial development in all of Star Wars' story history, and we will soon get to it. 
The style and tone of the story is also more like Star Wars rather than the sepulchral undertones that Empire would eventually be known for—the action is constant, the plot moves quickly, there is a much less pronounced darkness compared to the final film, and the story ends on a resolved and relatively light note, and could be said to be a self-contained adventure film like Star Wars.  However, a maturity had been introduced into the story, leaving behind the naivete and innocence of the original, and a foreboding atmosphere of danger hung over the characters.
It also mentions that—again—a Kurosawa film is mined; Dersu Uzala, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (even some exact dialog) and a few recycled scenes bandied about for Star Wars that ended up getting cut in the first film were the foundation of the sequel's pre-draft outline.

A footnote notes that Hoth may have been inspired by Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and that Lucas had some very early notes (1973) referring to an ice planet called Norton III.  Darth Vader, as befitting his unexpected popularity (and Lucas' own decision to magnify somewhat his role based on how much he ended up liking the visual design, becomes the main antagonist, although he's still more like the pulp The Lightning than he is a dark wizard.  The Emperor makes a brief appearance, but he's still a Nixon-parody; a manipulator and politician, not an even more sinister dark wizard.  There's even a scene in Lucas' treatment where Darth reaches out with the force and starts choking Luke as he leaves Hoth base; he only escapes by jumping to hyperspace.

And Yoda's full name is here given as Minch Yoda.  He always was a little critter (actually known as The Critter in early discussions, before he had a name) based on the main character from Dersu Uzala, including even the backwards speaking.  Lando is initially a clone surviving from the Clone Wars, which is why Leia doesn't trust him, and he may even be on a planet of clones.

In exploring how things changed, though, it's interesting to find a few things that came full circle.  In summer 1979 Bantha Tracks, we read:
Not much is known about Boba Fett. He wears part of the uniform of the Imperial Shocktroopers, warriors from the olden time. Shocktroopers came from the far side of the galaxy and there aren't many of them left. They were wiped out by the Jedi knights during the Clone Wars.
This became very similar to the origin of the Mandaloreans (which of course now no longer feature as the main antagonists in the Clone Wars—it's not clear here who fought with clones either; the shocktroopers or someone else) although curiously, Boba Fett became a not-Mandalorean who wore shocktrooper armor, most likely as a concession to protect someone's pet Expanded Universe ideas as Mandaloreans were later developed.  I like them better as they were initially envisioned.

After Leigh Brackett's death shortly after delivering the first draft, we get this interesting note:
Here we come to the first revelation: there was no prequel trilogy. Star Wars was not the fourth entry but the first, as noted earlier, with Empire Strikes Back being the second chapter. During story meetings between Brackett and Lucas, the film was identified as "Chapter II, the Empire Strikes Back," and by the time the second draft was finished, the familiar episode listing was in place.  However, it was not Episode V, as we now know the film to be—the opening crawl read "Episode II The Empire Strikes Back." 
However, after the second draft, the film would be know as Episode V. So, what was it that happened?  What occurred that suddenly made Lucas take a major step and add another three episodes to the Star Wars story?  Obi Wan Kenobi's tales were already in place, but they were not to be a "prequel" trilogy—they would either continue in the episode listing, which was not necessarily progressing in chronological sequence at the time of the first draft, as Gary Kurtz explained, or they would not be part of the "Star Wars" saga, perhaps simply a spin-off.  ... 
Some have tried to claim that Lucas came up with the idea of converting Father Skywalker into Darth Vader in 1977, between the release of Star Wars and the start of story development of Star Wars II, but there is no indication that such a process occurred, and in fact this argument is easily refuted.... In fact, we can pinpoint the exact month when the milestone event occurred... 
The most shocking piece of evidence of all is that in the first draft of Empire Strikes Back, Father Skywalker's ghost appears to Luke!  To repeat: The ghost of Luke's dead Jedi father appears while Like is training on Dagobah and gives Luke advice. Naturally, when Luke finally faces Darth there is no "father revelation"—he beckons Luke to join the darkside, Luke refuses, Vader attacks Luke and Luke jumps off the ledge; the point of Luke's confrontation with Darth is that he refuses the darkside.  Father Skywalker is described as "a tall, fine looking man," and is referred to only as "Skywalker."  Luke takes the oath of the Jedi from his father.
The structural problem Lucas faced following this draft, which in many ways closely resembles the final film already, was that Skywalker and Obi Wan were really quite redundant.  This is to be expected, as they were originally the same character in earlier drafts of Star Wars' scripts, and they never really had a chance to diverge much, other than that Skywalker was killed, and then his death was pushed back further and further into the backstory of the script as it evolved.

This new change was a dramatic simplification of the story; and was a dramatic twist; one of the most shocking of modern pop entertainment.  But, as it says in Secret History:
With this change in character and story, the Star Wars series would irrevocably shift from the Flash Gordon-type "serial" style to a more epic Dune-type "saga," from a storybook-like tale of good versus evil to a complicated chronicle of temptation and redemption....
Once Lucas brought Father Skywalker back into the series, he and Obi Wan became redundant as Obi Wan was essentially a copy of him (a noble elderly Jedi who is a father-figure to Luke and is betrayed by Vader), and suddenly Dagobah is full of old, noble Jedi ghosts who are basically the same character. To make matters worse, Yoda was created to replace Obi Wan—he was even based off an early version of him.  So really, he too is born ou of Father Skywalker in a way—Father Skywalker is killed off and then turns into Obi Wan and Obi Wan is killed off and then turns into Yoda. You can see Lucas writing himself into corners and having to invent new story directions.  But once the characters were all brought together, the story did not work dramatically—perhaps the idea of a "Jedi Trinity" worked better in concept, but once actually implemented in script form it revealed itself to not be the success Lucas envisioned.
 Of course, it had other issues.  It also changed Obi Wan and the Jedi.  No longer could they be seen as paragons of goodness "from a more civilized age," if Obi Wan and Yoda could outright lie to Luke about his own father, then what other shady behavior could they be up to?  If Yoda could tell Luke to sacrifice his friends, how else could he fall from the noble and heroic?

This was actually the death of Star Wars as it was, and it wasn't always a good thing, because although it was a suitably dramatic moment, and a huge bit of suspense that endured for literally three years in the minds of audiences, it also became morally ambiguous, and made the whole saga more mythic and less adventurous—it bordered on ponderousness many times (especially in the prequels) because of this development specifically.

As an aside; this also ended up changing the nature of the emperor.  The original Star Wars novelization suggested that the emperor himself had lost control (echoes of which would reappear in the prequels: "Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic."  It also even references that there have been many Emperors, even good ones, in the past.
This has its roots in the first draft of Star Wars, where there is only the Empire, a benign one in which the Jedi served as protectors. In this version one of the Emperors became corrupted and brought fascism to the galaxy; the Sith Knights, basically a mercenary band of warriors and sworn enemies of the Jedi, joined this Emperor as enforcers and hunted down their nemeses, who opposed the new tyrannical rule. In this draft, the current Emperor is seen giving an impassioned Hitler-esque speech to a rally of troops and is described as "a thin, gray looking man, with an evil mustache which hangs limply over his insipid lip."... 
In the second draft there was now once a republic which turned into an Empire through the corrupt senate, with the citizens welcoming a police state due to war and terrorism. The Sith Knights then joined the Emperor, later revealed as a senator who was elected as supreme ruler, as minions.  This seems to have been carried over into the third draft, even though the background information was cut out of the script itself in an effort to streamline the pacing. In the fourth draft, the additional Sith were cut out of the film altogether (though not necessarily the story) and Vader is their all-purpose representative.  It is interesting to imagine that in the original Star Wars there are many other Sith servants of the Empire, as there were in the previous drafts, whom we merely aren't yet introduced to. With the neglect to show them in Empire Strikes Back as well, it seems Lucas decided that Vader was indeed the last of them.

Metium

System: Metium
Hex Location: 1731
Star Type: Single A0 V
Number of Worlds: 11
Gas Giants: 2 (hot Jupiter)
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belt

Starport Type: C
World Size: Mars-sized
Atmosphere Type: Dangerous.  Poisonous gas will kill within minutes without a filter.
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Medium-sized (10 million)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Tags: Hostile AI, Sealed Menace, Mining world
Notes:  Located far enough away from most of the other worlds in the Carthen Colony, Metium is reasonably self-sufficient in many ways, although convoys travel to and from this world frequently.  However, to reach it, they often travel through the systems of Outremer East rather than making a four parsec jump, attempting to stay out of the sensors of the Crusaders, and skimming gas giants for unrefined fuel.  To accomplish this dangerous run, the Revanchists often hire smugglers from the Dhangetans or elsewhere, to maintain plausible deniability.  But the preponderance of mineral-poor water worlds elsewhere in the Carthen Colony means that access to this world's mineral wealth is vital.  But having to flit through enemy territory or making a jump beyond the safety of the three parsec minimum was always Metium's biggest challenge.

Metian mining site
It is, however, not the only one.  The miners, farmers, and other settlers have had another major problem literally fall out of the sky; an alien AI located in a large meteorite that crashed deep in the wilderness.  Because of its remoteness, they did not investigate for some time—when they finally did, they found that servitor robots had built a veritable army of other robots, linked to the AI, who are anxious to claim the planet for themselves.  Given the material wealth of the planet, there was plenty of raw material for the AI to work with, and it can (presumably) keep building robot soldiers and military vehicles, etc. into perpetuity.  On recognizing the hostility of the AI (every attempt to approach the site has been shot down, and a few far-flung settlements were destroyed completely, every single citizen therein massacred by alien robots), the settlers have effectively gone to war against the robots.  The ideal scenario would be an orbital bombardment that destroyed the AI's central CPU and thus the hostility of the servitors remaining, but it is too well protected and the colonists do not have access to any weapons that can breach its dug-in bunker.  Appeals to the Revanchists who nominally rule over the colony are mired in bureaucracy.

This alien AI has started sending waves of newly minted troops out into space now, in small amounts.  What are they looking for?  What is their purpose?  They seem to be scouting trips only, but the menace of the growing robot army is not one that has escaped the settlers of Metium, and as they start to worry that the situation is getting worse, there is open talk of looking for help elsewhere then the Republic, who seems only interested in making sure that the convoys of mineral wealth continues to flow.

Bizarre rumors are occasionally surfaced that there is a hideous, horrible alien creature from the Outer Darkness that lives on Metium.  Nobody has ever proven this, but the rumors suggest that one aspect of this creature is that it creates a strange psychic null field wherein anyone who perceives it is incapable of understanding what it sees, or remembering any details of the creature.  Some other explanation is always attributed to the actions of this creature; mass hypnosis, "swamp gas" or anything, really—anything other than what actually happened.  According to this strange conspiracy theory, the robots are actually trying to save humanity from this daemonic presence, as their artificial intelligence is not affected by the psychic field.

The fact that there is no proof whatsoever of so bizarre a story is seen as self-confirming evidence that it must be true to those who believe this.  If there is a way to counteract this field, none among the True Believers have any idea what it might be.

Beodon

System: Beodon
Hex Location: 1827
Star Type: Double (distant) G5 V, K2 V
Number of Worlds: 9, 8 (17)
Gas Giants: 1, 2 (hot Jupiter)
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belt (x2)

Starport Type: E
World Size: Larger than earth
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 100%
Population: Superpopulated (12 billion)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Tags: Boomtown / Gold Rush, Regional dominance, Zombie plague
Notes:  (Aside before I begin... I rolled up all this data randomly.  All of it.  This is a weird world, in some ways, but at the same time... one that I think really speaks to the strength of the random generation, even when you're using it to fill in systems that are part of space-faring nations that you've already determined.  I needed a head for the Carthen colony, and this is obviously it, based on the rolls that I got.  But a 100% water world, with 12 billion people, only a class E "frontier" style starport and a... zombie plague?  This turned out quite interesting...)
The strange, underwater spaceports of Beodon
Beodon was once a populous and important part of the Carrick.  Although larger than Earth, the core of the planet is less dense, and the gravity is only slightly above Terran average, making life here relatively easy.  The majority of the original colonists were the same, therefore, as that of the Carrick; Bernese humans of Earth-ancestry, with small but significant pluralities of some Altairans, some cepheids and cetians (an element of the population that grew over time, given the aquatic nature of Beodon.)  The oceans are relatively shallow, and vast underwater cities were founded, many of which have since risen well above the surface to become legitimate skyscrapers.

Beodon became a commercial and economic rival within the Carrick with Jhantor as it grew; the smaller, scrappier, leaner and meaner version of Jhantor, as they styled themselves.  This rivalry grew intense between the elites of the two worlds, who were the commercially and politically connected.  Ninety-three years ago, however, something happened that changed all of that.  A plague broke out on Beodon; a designer plague, according to epidemiologists who were eager to suggest that corporate or political espionage was the source of it.  Its victims didn't die immediately, but their cerebral activity rapidly devolved into savagery, and the victims became hyper-violent, insane, subhuman and cannibalistic.  This cerebral degeneration also causes them to be largely immune to shock of injury or pain; they really only "stop" when they've broken down physically sufficiently that they aren't able to continue.

What really caused this "zombie plague"?  Nobody really knows.  Corporate interests on Jhantor are largely blamed on Beodon itself, at least in official propaganda.  Honestly, the rank and file Beodonian is starting to seriously doubt this narrative; a conspiracy theory in which their own treasonous elite engineered the plague to create an excuse for political break with the Carrick due to bribes or kickbacks given to them by the Revanchists has spread like wildfire.  A subversive death sage experimenting with new ways of priming populations for undeath; "terraforming" live worlds into undead ones, in a way, is a popular rumor among off-worlders who are familiar with the situation.  But nobody has any hard answers.  What everyone does know is that this plague is deadly and devastating.  Although largely contained as of right now, it affected as much as 25% of the population at its height, and fears of new outbreaks loom like a shadow over the entire world.  Quarantine zones are strictly and harshly patrolled.  Nobody really knows how many victims live in the quarantine zones.  They could be largely depopulated.  Or they could be teeming with billions of victims.  Nobody wants to go in and find out; they are just sealed and heavily guarded, mostly by robotic soldiers who are not at risk of contracting the plague themselves should there be a break-out of some kind.

Plague victim on an artificial sandy island
This incident and its lingering aftermath had a profound political effect on Beodon and the remaining population.  Angry recriminations and inter-colonial warfare loomed imminent.  As the Revanchists continued their expansion in the region, Beodon split with the Carrick and a Revanchist fleet arrived to support their claims.  Immigration increased tremendously from Republic space, bringing with it new cultural mores; Jaffans and Psarians in particular.  They came in large enough numbers to threaten the dominant culture of Beodon, and they brought with them Revanchist troops that backed them over the natives.  At first, the horror of the plague was deemed sufficient justification for tolerating this, but as the years went on, the plague seemed to reach a kind of equilibrium of sorts, and it became clear that they had merely allowed themselves to be militarily conquered (by invitation, no less) resentment grew among the natives.  The situation on Beodon is today quite tense.  Domestic terrorism, résistance, freedom fighters, guerillas, 4GW fighters—whatever you want to call them—have made life very unpredictable on Beodon.  Vast areas of buildings, largely abandoned to plague victims, are still swarming with them, and occasionally they break through and wreak localized havoc before they can be put down.  The only people who have a modicum of peace are the aquacultural farmers who are removed from the source of either political or epidemiological tension.

Republic forces have created what is in effect a police state, heavily blockaded, and rigidly controlled on Beodon, to attempt to squash both the unrest and the plague danger—although the Revanchist governor has hinted broadly that opening up the sealed plague areas as a form of punishment for domestic violence is not off the table.  Smugglers, many from the Carrick, who now see their erstwhile rivals as heroic and oppressed cousins in need of relief is the prevailing opinion here, and Carrick pilots with letters of marque (or simply less respect for Revanchist authority) see themselves as swashbuckling, idealistic heroes.  In part because of this bubbling tension, there is a booming industry in settlement and gun-running, and other black-market deals. Mercenaries are flocking to the planet in droves, with fat contracts, ready to suppress any uprisings.  Jaffans and Psarians in particular are coming to settle, while many of the mercenaries are Cilindareans, Janissaries, or even more unsavory types.

Ethnic tension is also very strong.  The Psarians and Jaffans tend to be tolerant of the oppressive, capricious and corrupt Revanchist government, and support it (in part, because it favors them over the natives) while the Bernese and non-humans hate it.  This is what causes the starport to be of such low quality—between terrorism threats and zombie threats, the high quality starports of the past are abandoned, or otherwise considered too dangerous to use, and therefore are officially quarantined.  Ships arriving touch down in hastily constructed substitutes, get unrefined fuel cracked from the ocean-water that covers the surface, and head off again sooner rather than later.

In short, Beodon is a watery time-bomb politically, and even in Capital Publius and Dimidium Secundus, the Prime Minister and the King look hesitantly at Beodon and the Carthen/Carrick tension as a potential flashpoint that has known-space spanning implications.  It could be the Sarajevo of known space.  It certainly has no shortage of would-be Gavrilo Princips, although the elites on both sides are wary enough to avoid being the Archduke Franz Ferdinand—at least so far.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Corvi VII

System: Corvi VII
Hex Location: 1826
Star Type: Double G6 V, G0 V (distant)
Number of Worlds: 18 (8 around main star, 10 around distant star)
Gas Giants: 6 (4 around main star, 2 around second)
Planetoid Belt: Cometary belt around main star, Cometary and asteroid belt around distant star

Starport Type: C
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Large (c. 3 billion)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Tags: Sealed cities, Forgotten, Persistent dangerous weather
Notes: Corvi VII was settled long ago by the very first wave of Marians and their cepheid allies who were associated with the Bern House, before he rose to become the king of the Monarchy and a replacement (of sorts) for the failed and fallen Marian Empire.  And it was a prosperous enough colony, although it provided nothing that was in particular demand; as the Dark Age darkened, it was eventually forgotten and the colonists left to fend for themselves.

Domed Corvian city on a rare, clear(ish) day
Corvi VII has a supercharged cloud layer that thrums with constant electrical discharge so powerful that it acts is periodic electromagnetic pulses and can shut down anything struck by this electrical discharge.  This frustrated sensors and flights both, making approaching or leaving the surface rather tricky.  The colonists sealed their cities, or built them without electrical power in some cases, to avoid having to deal with being lashed by constant storms that periodically shut down all electronic devices.  In spite of this significant handicap to their technological base, the Corvians built a prosperous colony that thrived, showing significant innovation in using mechanical and chemical substitutes for what was elsewhere done with electronics—or learned to live without.

After many generations, many of the descendants of the original colonists started to doubt that their ancestors had really come from off-world, as their own ships, crashed or grounded by devastating electromagnetic pulses eventually cut them off from the rest of known space.  More recently, brave pilots from the Carrick rediscovered Corvi VII, and met with some of the leaders of its various governments.  Recognizing their dialect and their distant kinship, they were received in friendship, but those leaders feared what knowledge of what had happened to the old Empire of legend and myth would mean to the people.  The brave Carrick pilots were themselves either downed by the hazardous weather, or declined to come back and risk flying through the cloud belt that could shut their ship down and fry its crew, so the local leaders judged that their decision was wise.

Revanchist orbital platform
Later, the Revanchists decided that the system was a strategic one for them to control, so they established an orbital colony above the atmosphere (the C type starport), and developed technology that could withstand the EMP storms and travel to the surface as needed.  They've declared their overlordship to the local leaders, but have so far done very little to enforce it, and their presence has been concealed from the general populace—although no doubt they wonder at the strange degree to which local tensions between various nations have eased and their leaders gather for secret summits, the subject of which they have not revealed.

The Corvi VII system is interesting.  There are two widely separated yet gravitationally bound sun-like stars, each with their own systems of planets—although all but the main world detailed here are inhospitable to human life.  Rumors of a pirate base located somewhere around the other sun-like star, some of which operate with letters of marque from the Carrick and disrupt revanchist traffic throughout Carthen persist, but if they do exist, the Republic officials have not yet managed to find definitive proof of them—just the circumstantial evidence of ships that go missing without a trace.

World tags

I mentioned not long ago that I'm reviewing other games in the space opera genre (appropriate for #SpaceOperaWeek!) and I finally got around to reading most of the space hexcrawl material for Stars Without End.  This is not an OGL game, so I can't use anything as is—plus, much of it merely replicates what I've already got, which I adapted from Traveller (as the authors here no doubt did as well.)  But the world tags is a great idea.  It will give me a random way of adding flavor to worlds rather than me having to come up with it on my own (which I've done so far.)  Because I have done it so far, I don't need to do it for the worlds I've already created, although I could go back and add tags that correspond to what I've already come up with.  I probably won't (although at some point in the future if things get slow, I might.)  But going forward, I'd like to use these tags to help me populate my map at less effort to me personally, and this seems like a wonderful concept.  So, taking the same concept, I'll add it as an OGL (see the OGL link on my AD ASTRA page above) adaptation of the same idea.

I've used some of the same ideas as Stars Without Number, but with modification in many cases.  Plus, I thought many of their ideas started to become a bit redundant or are obvious based on other things that I'm generating (I don't need a desert world tag when I can already see that I've rolled a surface water number of only 10%, or an ocean world when I rolled a 90%, for example); while they had 60 tags, I've only got 40.  The tags should suggest further details about the world, so two or three of them should be generated at the end of the world generation routine, right before you start writing up the notes.  I'll eventually add this post to the space mapping flowchart, but let me tinker with it here first.

There's no d40, so what I've done is try to keep my numbers round so I can roll a d4 plus a d10 to render all of these results.  I'd like to think that I can add more eventually, but ideally, I'd add them in chunks of 20 after I can think of that many at least, so that I can upgrade the d4 to a d6 (and then to a d8, then a d10, etc.)

To pick a tag, roll a 1d4 and consult the section below corresponding to your result.  Roll another 1d10 and pick the tag that is gives you.  Do this 2-3 times for every world, and you've got ready-made flavor starters to make your worlds more unique.

1d4 Roll = 1
  1. Ghost Town—This was once a colony, but it is now abandoned.  This might have been from before the Dark Ages, and it was abandoned, or some other technological, economic, or natural disaster led to its failure.  The ruins of the old colony are probably still around, silent and abandoned... but sometimes they are not as empty as they seem.  
  2. Alien Ruins—The world has alien ruins of archaeological (and possibly other) significance.  They may be a tourist attraction, or they may be strictly controlled by the locals.
  3. Genetically Modified Population—The people here are dramatically and obviously different from the other spacefaring examples of their race—extra eyes, or limbs, or other organs, etc. Usually this was done on purpose via gene-splicing to make them better colonists in their new environment, but sometimes some feature of the world causes mutations or other rapid genetic change in subsequent generations.
  4. Death World—An extremely dangerous environment; could be dangerous predators, persistent plague, or wasteland devastated by super-weapons of the past.
  5. Sealed Cities—Colonists cannot survive the environment on this world, so live in sealed cities; either underground, or in domes or bubbles, etc.
  6. Civil War—The world is currently torn between at least two factions vying for control and engaged in open warfare.
  7. Cold War—The world has at least two dominant factions vying for control of the rest of the world, but are in a state of tense cease-fire.
  8. Oppressed Natives—A puppet or colonial government of off-worlders rules over a sullen, conquered native population.
  9. Eugenic Mania—This world is obsessed with eugenics (or cybernetics) to improve the condition of its population.  Unlike #3 above, this is in response to cultural rather than environmental stimuli.
  10. Feral World—A colony has been isolated (due to the Dark Ages, or some other stimulus) and has had a complete moral and cultural collapse.  Hostile murderous cults, cannibalism, human(oid) sacrifice, or other extremely inhospitable practices have taken hold of the civilization that has grown up in the meantime.
1d4 Roll = 2
  1. Flying Cities—It is undesirable to settle on the surface.  Perhaps hostile natives make it too dangerous, or there is only a gaseous body, or some other inhospitable condition, but the colonists live in cities that float above the surface.  May include orbital cities.
  2. Forbidden Technology—While there is no governing body capable of making and enforcing "international law" (although some pretend to that role) there are certain technologies that are almost universally shunned—DNA corrupting weapons, planet-busters, dangerously unstable AIs with access to deadly weapons, etc. However, at least one example can be found here.  The population may not be aware of the danger, or it may be something that the whole population is in on as a war effort, etc.
  3. Persistent Dangerous Weather—Massive storms that can flatten a city, persistent electrical storms that can blast a starship out of the sky, extreme variations in temperature that can kill the unprepared and crack building materials; something about the weather necessitates extreme precautions.
  4. Boom Town / Gold Rush—Some extremely valuable commodity is found here in significant quantities that is rare elsewhere; specialized isotopes of rare metals, drug-like spice, valuable wildlife, etc. The planet has had a surge of fortune-hunters converge on it overwhelming the ability of law and order to contain or control them.
  5. Industrial World—Vast industrial parks dominate the planet, and its industrial base usually makes it a significant exporter.  This may be industry that serves to aggrandize the local tyrant, however.
  6. Mining World—The world itself (or perhaps an asteroid belt within the system) is an important source of raw materials; gold, silver, nickel-iron asteroids, etc. are mined here, and often shipped to an industrial world for further use.
  7. Hostile Solar System—The world itself is not necessarily dangerous, but the solar neighborhood is.  Perhaps a hot Jupiter causes period massive solar flares, or a solar space loaded with debris causes much heavier than normal meteorite activity, or a thick nebula confounds navigation, or there's a lurking black hole in the area.
  8. Local Specialty—The world has a specific import—a unique technology, or highly prized agricultural product, or even something as simple as extremely fashionable local craftsmen that the high and mighty throughout known space value as decorations.  This brings a great deal of trade and other attention from the interstellar neighborhood at large.
  9. Forgotten—The natives have been completely out of contact with known space for many generations, and may even have forgotten the details of their origin and how they colonized their world.  The PCs might even be the first to contact the population in centuries—or perhaps limited contact has occurred under very strict control by the ruling elite, designed to keep their whereabouts and circumstances secret.
  10. Outpost World—This world is only a tiny outpost of humanity; an observation or monitoring post, a vital refueling waystop on an important shipping lane, or some other stopover planet that offers little in the way of services beyond the essentials, but which may be important enough that all kinds pass through here on their way to somewhere else.
1d4 Roll = 3
  1. Pilgrimage World—The world has an important religious or historical significance; many are places where Simon the Blessed did something momentous on his way to founding the first order of psionic knights.  People often travel here from distant places, and the locals may be very strict with the access that they allow.
  2. Primitive Aliens—Although colonists live here (or have lived here) the majority of the population is technologically primitive and may be considerably hostile to colonists or other visitors.
  3. Thaumatophobia—Warlocks and/or psionic knights face extreme hatred or fear or persecution here, and may be completely unwelcome to the point that if they reveal their abilities, they may be lynched on the spot.
  4. Thaumatophilia—Warlocks and/or psionic knights are seen as heroes or gods almost, and receive tremendous acclaim.  Note; this doesn't necessarily mean that foreign warlocks and/or psionic knights are given the same deference that locals are given.
  5. Warlock Academy—There are very few institutions that teach warlocks their trade, and most are taught by an eccentric via apprenticeship, or some even learn on their own as they can.  This world, however, has one of the few academies that can train (relatively) large numbers of them in a systemic way.
  6. Psionic Knight Academy—There are very few institutions that teach psionic knights to unlock their power, and most learn as squires or apprentices to an established knight.  This world, however, has one of the few academies that can train (relatively) large numbers of them in a systemic way.  Most belong to a significant order, such as the Simonians, Sacristans, Old Ones, praetors, etc.
  7. Quarantined World—Access to this world is severely restricted, or even forbidden altogether.  Squads of one-man fighters may chase down and destroy those who attempt to land without the proper authorization, or ground batteries may pelt ships from their approach in orbit, or the entire planet might be under blockade by a hostile force.
  8. Radioactive World—It may be the result of past atomic warfare, or just the natural conditions on the planet, but without extreme measures, the world will cause mutations, cancers, and other problems.  Natives are often mutated beyond recognition after many generations.
  9. Regional Dominance—For whatever reason, this world exerts its political, military, or economic dominance over a multi-system area.  This may be the capital of a colonial holding or other polity, or it might just be so technologically and economically sophisticated that the dominance is not formal, although still very real.
  10. Oceanic Cities—The cities might be gigantic floating ships, or platforms that are anchored to a surface below the waves, or they might even be built underwater altogether, making access to them tricky.
1d4 Roll = 4
  1. Sealed Menace—Something on the planet has the potential to create havoc for not only the population but possibly even beyond; malfunctioning ancient terraforming equipment that has created an instability, a powerful dangerous alien creature, exposure to the Outer Darkness, a virulent disease that needs to be contained, etc.  Whatever it is, it looms like a shadow over everything that happens.
  2. Secret Cabal—While the populace does not realize it, the planet is secretly ruled by a shadowy cabal of puppet-masters.  To keep their secrets, this cabal is often unusually hostile to off-worlders and their meddling.  
  3. Tomb World—Some tomb worlds are similar to Ghost Town worlds where the inhabitants all died off for one reason or another (lack of food, lack of technology to maintain safe living conditions, etc.) but some were deliberately designed to be tombs to the wealthy and important, and their ancient tombs, like the pyramids in Egypt, may conceal all kinds of secrets of the past.
  4. Trade Hub—An extremely cosmopolitan world that is position in such a way that it is a major crossroads across various trade routes, shipping lanes, or offer ready access to markets or goods that are unavailable elsewhere.  This commercial strategic location also sometimes makes them targets for foreign governments to want to control...
  5. Tyranny—The world is in the grip of an extremely oppressive government; either swaggering elites who feel entitled to their whims (the Normans of Robin Hood legend) or oppressive secret police, or some other flavor of extreme tyranny.  Visitors to this world often don't return.
  6. Hostile AI—An artificial intelligence has run away from its creators and taken over the world.  It may have decided to eliminate all potential threats (think SkyNet or Ultron) or it may simply have removed from power its creators and taken over with what it thinks is benevolent intentions.
  7. Balkanization—The world is broken up into various governments that are hostile to each other, and the whole surface may well be in the midst of low-grade warfare, or raiding, etc. 
  8. Xenophilia—The population are fast friends of a particular interstellar race, either because of the actions of some hero in the past, or because of cultural or religious significance attached to that race.
  9. Xenophobia—The natives are intensely averse to any dealings with offworlders.  This may be low-grade annoyance and impoliteness, attempts to cheat them and insult them, etc. or they may violently react to any non-natives who appear among them.
  10. Zombie Plague—This isn't necessarily the supernatural zombie type outbreak, put some plague or parasite or drug or mutation (or... well, it might be a magical effect that literally reanimates the dead) has caused ravening hordes of dangerous ghouls who want only to attack, kill, infect, or eat anyone they can get their hands on.

Muda Meko

System: Muda Meko
Hex Location: 1825
Star Type: Single K9 V
Number of Worlds: 6
Gas Giants: 3 (1 hot Jupiter)
Planetoid Belt: Cometary belt; 2 asteroid belts

Starport Type: X
World Size: Larger than Earth
Atmosphere Type: Thin
Surface Water: 20%
Population: Medium sized (c. 30 million)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Notes: A planet of Oerk clans, strong, scaled and reptilian aliens.  They don't always have primitive tribal culture (although left on their own, they do tend to revert to that mean) but on Muda Meko they certainly do.  The oerks of Muda Meko are not citizens of the Republic, or citizens at all, for that matter—the Republic ignores them except to exploit them as cheap labor locally, or they trick them into entering indentured servitude and going abroad—again, usually as cheap manual labor, or cannon fodder in their wars.  As of right now, the oerk population still accepts this state of affairs, not really knowing much of what goes on off-world, and therefore too naive to know better, but they are becoming more and more suspicious every day of these "little weak people from the stars."

Orbital Revanchist corporate city
These tribal natives are not what the Republic considers when it calls this world one of theirs, however.  Powerful corporate interests within the Republic have used their crony relationship with corrupt politicians to prompt the claiming of the world, and they've established their own settlements (mostly large orbital cities) from which their employees and contractors can exploit the planet for its mineral, agricultural and humanoid capital.  Few people in the Republic really understand much of what happens here (and besides, there are so many exploited worlds), so this in many ways resembles the Congo Free State; corporate interests provide extensive propaganda about "humanitarian" and missionary concerns, while they effectively strip-mine the planet of anything of value; including the natives themselves.

On the surface of the planet, however, there are no starports at all, or even high tech urban facilities to speak of.  The oerks live a primitive life, and the Revanchists don't stay on the surface (the combination of high gravity and thin air make it quite uncomfortable) so they spend their time in a far orbit, nearly at lunar distance, in an artificial torus city.

Riesefels

System: Riesefels
Hex Location: 1926
Star Type: Double K8 V, M4 IV Subgiant (distant)
Number of Worlds: 7
Gas Giants: 3
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belt

Starport Type: X
World Size: Mars sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 90%
Population: Super-populated (12+ billion)
Political Affiliation: Carthen Colony (Revanchist Republic)
Notes: The ocean-planet of Riesefels was originally settled millennia ago by cetians; aquatic (more properly amphibious; they can survive out of water for a considerable amount of time if needed, and can breath oxygenated air) fish-people who are seen in many oceans across the sector and beyond.  Riesefels is a great environment for them, and over the millennia they prospered; their eggs proliferated, the only predators capable of doing them any harm were their own beasts of burden gone feral, and they were occasionally—at least in the early years—supplemented by new settlers.  The population exploded relatively quickly.

Cetian sitting on a reef.
Political, cultural and religious realities as the colony progressed, especially during the dark years after the Wars of the Last Emperors and the fall of the Marian civilization, meant that these cetians eventually turned their back on the rest of the interstellar community, refused entry to any spaceships that came (although during the worst of the dark ages, none did) scrapped and salvaged their own ships and even the ports that they had previously built.  Cultural and religious strictures enforcing isolation grew rigid.

Many years later, (although now several centuries ago) colonists from the Carrick also settled on Riesefels, although they initially avoided the oceans entirely, settling on the shores of vast interior lakes on the small, island-like continents that made up only a small portion of the surface area of the planet.  In fact, they existed for decades without even being aware of the cetians under the ocean's surface, or vice versa.  This was also a prosperous colony, rich in agriculture, if not industry, and the population grew here too.  Until the two populations became aware of each other.  The leaders of many cetian nations called a crusade to—if not wipe the land-people off the surface of the planet—to at least destroy their star ports and keep their world free from interstellar interference.  After many years of fighting, they finally came to a cease-fire between the land and sea peoples—although as a condition, there are no starports at all on the planet, and ships that come here must simply land in whatever open space they can find.  Luckily for these few visitors, the land population powers much of their cities with fission power; using lakewater (so as not to antagonize the sea-dwellers) as a primary fuel source, splitting the molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.  This means that a side-effect of his is that unrefined fuel is usually available, and kept for exactly that purpose.  The cetians suspect that more ships come and go than they are told, and tensions between the sea and the land are growing.

Although the human settlers came (mostly) from the Carrick and were culturally and ethnically Bernese, many felt that they were not supported sufficiently by the government on Lyrae VI (this was several decades ago now) and when some of the other systems nearby opted to secede and ally themselves (later to be officially integrated as Carthen Colony) with the Revanchist Republic, which was eager to claim territory in this subsector, far from their normal boundaries, but important in establishing space-lanes to yet more far-flung colonies elsewhere in the sector, the Riesefels colony joined them.  This has maybe exacerbated tensions with the cetians, as the Revanchists are more interested in promoting their own agenda then they are in maintaining peace with what they consider subjugated people (a bit of a misnomer, because the cetians are neither subjugated to the Republic, nor do they even have any meaningful diplomatic relationship with them one way or another).  As tensions between the Revanchists and the Bernese continue to grow across all of known space, this means that Riesefels has become tense with regards to both its foreign interstellar policy as well as with its domestic cetian/human interactions.  As if that wasn't enough, many people of various other races have arrived since the absorption into the Republic, including Revanchist bureaucracy, some soldiers and more, and the original settlers are finding that their alliance with them may have been rather rash.  Strong factions among the locals favor declaring independence from the Republic and realigning with the Carrick yet again.

The human (and other starfaring alien) population on Riesefels is large, but not abnormally so—about a billion people, spread across one roughly Greenland sized island continent and other much smaller islands.  But this is primarily an ocean planet, and the cetians, should they ever be sufficiently roused to completely claim the entirety of the world, could surely do so, as their numbers are vast; more than ten times the number of air-breathers teem under the waves in many mighty kingdoms and nations.