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.


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.


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. Rhabdophobia—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. Rhabdophilia—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.


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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Some Indo-European and other paleo/archaeo/linguistic stuff

Science—the real thing, I mean, not the nonsense that the pseudo-intelligent run around bragging about like weird little virtue-signalers with their SCIENCE! labels—is fun, because it's surprising.  This is especially true for the sciences that I am most interested in, but it's really true for all of them; experiments are extremely narrow, and they are interpreted based on models that attempt to make sense of the data of numerous experiments and data sets.  However, the models themselves are not science, and the models themselves can prove to be dramatically wrong sometimes, as more experiments and more data becomes available that makes them untenable.

In today's upside-down, nonsense world, the models are more important to SCIENCE! than science is, however, and changes to the models, even if you have data that makes it imperative is very, very hard.  You just don't get any headway making inroads against established and entrenched paradigms on which scientists have built their whole careers.  This is especially true if political or business interests have a vested interest in only promoting results that suit their agenda, and they pay the bills for science to actually happen.  This is the scenario we are in today, where there is little incentive to be the iconoclast with some intriguing new data that you're trying to make sense of, rather than the person who sweeps that intriguing data under the rug and finds some way to prop up the current year narrative instead.

That said, sometimes those iconoclasts do exist in spite of the incentives to keep them quiet, and sometimes they do present intriguing data and is interpreted in a framework that is different than the prevailing narrative.  And sometimes we should pay attention to those new models, because they have something interesting to say—even if they turn out to be wrong, they invariably teach us something significant about whatever model we do end up with, even if it's a modified version of the status quo.

A few models that I've recently been made aware of might fall into this category.  They might represent real challenges to the status quo; or at least in a fair world where they're given a fair hearing, they might.  I find them intriguing and worth further investigation.

The first is called Out-of-America.  This is in contrast to Out-of-Africa that proponents of the evolutionary progression and migration of modern humanity has propagated as the only serious model that we can be looking at.  It comes in several varieties, each with various intriguing solutions to problems, but each with problems of their own.
  • Out-of-America I: Human origins among New World primates rather than Old World great apes.  This is the most drastic, but given the paucity of fossil evidence to support any model currently under consideration, it's actually not as far-fetched as it should sound at first blush—if you keep in mind, again, that the model currently in use is not based on rock-solid mountains of data, but rather on one plausible interpretation of pretty scanty data.  Cebidae (capuchins and squirrel monkeys) actually have a number of shared features with humans and advanced apes, and have even more behavioral features with humans than great apes.
  • Out-of-America II: Human origins from an east Eurasian hominid who crossed Berengia to the New World, speciated into modern humans, and then migrated back to the Old World, replacing (with some admixture while passing through Denisovan or Neanderthal lands) Old World hominids.  This model actually fits genetic data fairly well (the data set that is throwing off all kinds of past paleo/archaeological models).  Another advantage is that geographic isolation is what is seen as correlated with speciation, and this is the only model that provides it.  This actually interprets Y-DNA evidence for diversity in Africa as extended and more substantial admixture with various local hominids rather than of in situ development.  This model of colonization and migration leading to greater genetic diversity as various population groups converge on one area and blend will be important later when we talk about another PIE model too.  There are other interesting data points in the fossil record that suggest that the peopling of Africa from Eurasia (rather than the other way around) long ago has some merit.
  • Out-of-America III: Similar to OOAII except only taking place at the end of the last Ice Age, especially with regards to the "Asiatic" physical features, which are actually "native" to the Americas in this model.  There is actually some pretty good archaeological evidence to support this model, which is only ignored because nobody knows how to interpret it under our current model of Clovis coming from Siberia.  That said, while it completely turns over the Clovis First model, it is still much more conservative than the prior two models, but also could work with them.
  • Out-of-America IV: This is basically II and III together.  Back-migration from America during the Late Pleistocene and then again during the Early Holocene.  Early modern humans become a North American innovation that spread across the Old World from Berengia, replacing (and mixing to some small degree) with archaic humans like Denisovans, Neanderthals, or Homo heidelbergensis.  Later, East Asian and circum-Arctic populations migrated again from the New World to the Old.
It's important to note that the Out-of-Africa model has evolved somewhat too from what it was a few years ago (where it was basically modern humans from Africa completely replaced all other archaic humans globally.)  The current Out of Africa model does have back-migration from Eurasia, and it has to because genetic studies indicate that archaic human admixture was present in Africa as well.  A newer model already is close to Out of America in many ways; to account for the majority of y-chromosome lineages found in Africa, as well as sites in South Africa with skulls that cluster with Eurasian skulls, etc. has modern humans developing not in Africa or America exactly, but in Arabia or even as far as India before back-migrating into Africa.  This also explains the persistence of archaic human fossils almost to the very eve of the Holocene; because they were being replaced by immigrants from outside Africa rather than global archaic humans being replaced by immigrants from Africa.  It also explains why over-hunting and the extinction of the megafauna is a plausible model in the Americas and Europe, for example, but not Africa—because modern humans were relatively late arrivals.  This theory ends up being nothing more than a more conservative version of Out-of-America IV.  The staggering linguistic diversity of the Americas is, on the other hand, cited as evidence for the antiquity of modern humans in North America in spite of their lack of genetic diversity (relatively speaking).  In fact, genetic diversity is reinterpreted here; it doesn't mean that it's the place where a group originated and then sat around diversifying; it means the place where the subject population immigrated to and found diverse populations to mingle with.  On the balance, that's a more sensible approach, in my opinion, anyway.

That last is what I referred to up above as well; if we're completely misinterpreting in many cases the cause of diversity; it's not the result of long-time residence, but rather the result of the mixing of long-time residents with another group that replaced them (but not completely 100%, resulting in some mixed DNA in the ensuing population) can the same logic be applied linguistically?  Johanna Nichols has proposed a variation on the prevailing Kurgan Theory of proto-Indo-European Urheimat that has it originating further east than we thought, and presenting diversity (especially in the Balkans) because two large streams—a northern and southern dialect group—came together again there after being separated during a gradual migration westward.  This basically has pre-Indo-European as a relative of Uralic languages in the Bactrian area that gradually migrated westward, shedding language families as it went (starting with Tocharian), superimposing themselves over a population of early Caucasian or Kartvelian speaking hunters and early agriculturists who lived in the Pontic-Caspian grasslands.  This substrate is what led to a more "modern" late PIE, which continued to diversify into the languages that we later see in Europe and elsewhere.

This is quite a sophisticated model, but I have to highlight that after 10 years, it's still seen as kind of a fringe model.  Again; is this because of entrenched academic opinion resisting models that will throw out their beloved work of decades, or because the model really does need more work to seriously threaten it?  I don't know enough specialist knowledge to make that judgement.  

But even the classic Kurgan model proposes that the prestige dialect that led to real, honest-to-goodness PIE came from the northeastern corner where horse domestication and "royal" grave goods starts first, and they later dominated the rest of the region (although it posits that the region already spoke closely related languages or dialects to PIE even so.)

Here's some new maps that show this spread with an emphasis on how PIE broke up in its early years and turned into the stocks that later emerged as Indo-European families.  These maps include the Maikop culture, and even propose that the Anatolian languages came from them; which seems unlikely.  Otherwise... well, they're quite pretty.

Samara culture c. 5,000 BC
Early Yamna culture c. 3,500 BC
Late Yamna culture c. 2,000 BC
Early Indo-European migrations c. 1,500-1,000 BC

Early historical placement of I-E languages c. 1,000-500 BC
Indo-European distribution during historical antiquity c. 500 AD
Medieval distribution of I-E languages c. 1,000 AD


System: Freeport
Hex Location: 2123
Star Type: Single B5 V
Number of Worlds: 8
Gas Giants: 3
Planetoid Belt: Cometary and asteroid belts

Starport Type: C
World Size: Earth-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 60%
Population: Large (c. 1 billion)
Political Affiliation: Independent
Notes: Freeport is an interesting place, and that's mainly because of the history and settlement pattern that built it.  Named many centuries ago by it's founder, a retired Janissary who was looking for a place to set up with his retinue and loyal brothers-in-arms away from the greater territory of the Cilindarean Arm and its allies, Freeport has grown tremendously due both to high birthrate as well as reasonably high immigration.

Onidas Mosonor was a hero of the Slave Wars as a young man and was part of the elite guard that ended up freeing the Janissaries permanently from the control of the Marian Empire.  As an older man, he was a feared, respected and successful general of the Last Emperors Wars.  His reputation among Cilindareans and Janissaries both was impeccable.  He was so respected, in fact, that there was serious talk of elevating him to Anaxaster of the Cilindareans, but he was wise enough to know that that would only provoke intense conflict; the Cilindareans were proud enough that large numbers would never accept a foreign Anaxaster, even a highly respected one, and the Cilindarean Arm would be fractured and broken.  Taking only his most loyal battalion and their families, he left Cilindare into self-imposed exile and created the settlement of Freeport.  With him went many Janissaries and Cilindareans both, but to some degree, they turned their backs on their former Motherland in order to save it, and established a peaceful colony where they could live in freedom and peace.  They didn't exactly beat their radium rifles into plowshares, but they did become rural agrarians for the most part, and maintained their martial traditions as a form of citizen militia.  (They are, after all, located close to Voormellei and Tekeli-li, and neither were their idea of good neighbors.)  Freeport thrived, and grew—partly due to immigration from jaded Cilindareans and Janissaries who romanticized the agrarian former soldier lifestyle immortalized by Mosonor and his followers, but especially through a thriving and furious birthrate as the colonials found that peaceful farming suited them tremendously well.  Today, the descendants of these mixed Cilindarean and Janissary settlers make up about 45% of the population of Freeport, and they still maintain autonomous governments that are largely unconnected from the other population groups, although they do exist in friendly confederation.

Another 20% of the population is emancipated robots.  Many of them are "natives" of Freeport, having been built here, but many come from various parts of known space looking for haven.  In fact, Freeport has been accused by some of enabling and tolerating a robot "underground railroad" for them, which may in fact be true, but its more simply that it is an unflinching matter of public policy that citizens of Freeport are guaranteed freedoms.  Many of the robots that come here are not, of course, admitted as citizens and have to move on, but the same has always been true of the human citizens as well, and immigration controls have been strict to avoid watering the place down with culture that is incompatible with the ideals of the founders, which would therefore jeopardize the birthright of those for whom the colony was built—the descendants of the original colonists.

The last 35% or so of the population are refugees and the descendants of refugees from the Revanchists.  These are mostly Jaffans—"rainbows" as they're sometimes called—who have risen above the rabbity instincts of the r-strategist herd that makes up the majority of the Revanchist citizens.  For various reasons, they desire and admire true freedom, not the mockery of freedom that the Republic offers, and many such dissidents have come to Freeport over the last few hundred years.  Sicha Nasheii was the intellectual and literal leader of these, but many more continue to stream away from the Republic territory; particularly the nearby Carthen colony (which is, admittedly, not strictly speaking a Jaffan colony).  Although the original founders are sympathetic to the disillusionment that they have faced with the Revanchist party line, they are also wary of these, and tend to have granted them their own autonomous territories within the Freeport system or on the Freeport surface, rather than allowed to live in large numbers among them.  The Jaffans are also subject to a great deal of suspicion, as "sleepers" and other terrorists infiltrate them to a relatively high degree.  This has caused a great deal of slumbering, nascent conflict to be if it cannot be dealt with effectively, somehow.

Freeport itself is a fertile, Earth-like world in most respects, although the daytime sky is surprisingly dim and hazy due to upper atmosphere salmon-colored dust clouds that have been suspended for as long as the colonists have lived here, at least.  Its most famous terrain are the rolling chaparral hills colored in colorful plant growth, but it is by far not the only type of terrain on the planet, which features as much variety as Earth does.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What's next for Ad Astra?

I just finished the worlds of the Carrick Grand Marches, and the Voormellei Federation which serves as an adjacent (and culturally very distinct!) ally to them.  What's next?  I don't intend to do the entire sector before I move on to other projects, or it'll consume everything else that I do.  However, before I take a break from star system data sheets and I think about something else (like maybe getting back to DARK•HERITAGE a bit here and there! Imagine that, on a blog with that name!) I want to do a bit more mapping, so that I have enough data to potentially do something besides tinker with world building in the AD ASTRA setting.  So, I'll continue a targeted approach; doing stuff that looks really interesting and leaving other stuff for later.  Also; at the very least, I probably need to have the rest of the immediate neighborhood done.

The Carthen Colony is among the most important here.  Six worlds, two of which are adjacent to Eliane and Shahar (respectively) and culturally very similar to the Carrick, these are both rival and estranged brothers, in some senses, having thrown their lot in with the Revanchist Republic instead of the Monarchy.  These six worlds (plus two more allied ones) are important to do. Total additional worlds needed here: 7.  Maybe 8, if I add system 1933 to the list.

There are also a number of independent systems that are within easy reach of the Carrick; 2430, 2131, and 2133.  Maybe 1833 and 1734 can be done too, since I'm working on worlds that are allied with them.  Total worlds to do here: 5.

Although I didn't (yet) give it a name, there's a small cluster of Seraean worlds adjacent to Tekeli-li.  Four, in fact: 2331, 2332, 2333, and 2433.  Because it's a bit separated from the Seraean Empire as a whole, it probably needs a name as a unique colony, or dynastic union state, or something.  Total worlds here: 4.

There are a lot of nearby Dhangetan worlds, as the colony is nestled almost completely adjacent to the Dhangetan Cartel's territory.  I don't need to detail every Dhangetan world nearby, but I probably need at a minimum to do 8 of them; the little cluster of 2213, 2223 and 2224, the second cluster of 2326, 2327, 2328 and 2428.  And probably also 1925.

Total to be developed here: 25.  Considering that the Carrick and the Voormellei Federation was itself only 11 worlds, this is a big deal. But once I'm done, I can take a break before I dive into some of the other colonies, including Outremer and Tan Kajak.  Oof.  Those projects are bigger than the one I'm in now.


System: Neferre
Hex Location: 2229
Star Type: Single M6 V
Number of Worlds: 7
Gas Giants: N
Planetoid Belt: Comet belt and three asteroid belts

Starport Type: C
World Size: Moon-sized
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: 50%
Population: Super-populated (unknown; more than 10 billion)
Political Affiliation: Voormellei Federation (Allies of Carrick Grand Duchy)
Notes:  For many years, Neferre was little more than a planet sized prison.  The worst of prisoners (or the most dangerous) were deposited on its surface and left to their own devices, trusting that the primitive environment would render them unable to escape, and orbital robotic satellites targeted any potential cobbled-together craft that the prisoners might have been able to make.  With the fall of the Marian Empire, the planet was no longer used as a prison, and the robotic satellites were allowed to degrade and falter, due to there not being anyone around who cared to maintain them.

The prisoners (and their descendants) on the other hand were gripped in the hands of barbarism.  Criminals and political prisoners who had no shortage of loyal fellow prisoners to call on, established themselves as warlords and did as they pleased on the surface of the planet, marshaling the intelligent to build brutal yet effective poles of civilization on the surface.  Balkanized to the extreme, and usually along racial lines, they developed a strange warrior-ethos planet, usually barbaric, but with pockets of surprisingly effective technology (not unlike Mongo of Flash Gordon fame, in many ways.)  But the natives hadn't quite managed to get back off-world—and nobody on the surface remembered in person, anymore, the greater Marian society that their ancestors had lived in, except in legend—when greater trouble struck.

Neferran dog soldier
Reavers started raiding the surface, killing, looting, and enslaving the people.  The Death Sages started kidnapping them for slavery as well, or killing and then reanimating them.  Dhangetan criminals saw them as rubes under no protection other than their own.  The people became even more feral, if possible, turning their balkanized kingdoms and fiefdoms into enormous fortresses, to better ward off attack by their rivals on surface, or their enemies from off-world.  Between these gargantuan fortress-cities with their teeming billions of citizens, the planet is divided into feral no-man's zones; hostile and crawling with bandits, and genetically modified predators, and worse.

Finally, the former prisoners were able, after reverse engineering spacecraft shot down by their defenses, to themselves get off-world and reintegrate into interstellar society.  But even today, there is no one government on Neferre, and although it's considered part of the Voormellei Federation, it's more accurate to say that some of the independent nations on the surface are part of that federation, while others are doing their own thing.  Their legacy as a people with no rights at all shows on the inhabitants of Neferre; many of which are experimental cyborgs, or travesties and abominations of genetic experimentation that no civilized nation would have allowed.  Even today, it has a reputation as a lawless, feral place; worse than a hive of scum and villainy; a nest of the worst of vipers, and a place that is little better than a death sentence to visit, except for the exceptionally prepared.

That said, the wars that constantly range across its surface have not only created a demand for mercenaries, but also given local soldiers experience that they can bring to bear in the service of more cosmopolitan warlords, and the feral, often cybernetic dog soldiers of Neferre, as they call themselves, are now seen in many places in nearby systems, especially among the Dhangetan worlds, who are as a rule less scrupulous about their vassals anyway.

There is, however, a more cosmopolitan and urbane elite who rule the megacity nations, and more than just soldiers and criminals have reason to come to Neferre.  Industry, agriculture, fish "ranching" and other trades provide sufficient incentive for many to come buy.  In fact, it is exactly these cultured and sophisticated elites who pushed for the alliance of the Voormellei Federation with the Carrick Grand Marches—in general, the death sages were largely indifferent, and many of them yet oppose the alliance privately.


System: Tekeli-li
Hex Location: 2230
Star Type: Double star A2 V, K9 III (distant)
Number of Worlds: 8
Gas Giants: 3
Planetoid Belt: Cometary belt

Starport Type: B
World Size: Mars-sized
Atmosphere Type: Thin
Surface Water: 10 (much of it polar ice)
Population: Large (2 billion)
Political Affiliation: Voormellei Federation (Allies of Carrick Grand Duchy)
Notes:  Many years ago, Voormellei human and old earth-stock humans fought over this planet, which is superficially very similar to Mars—cold, dry, a bit on the small side, with a thin atmosphere and long canals that bring water from polar ice caps to decadent cities in deserts that may have once been ancient sea shores.  Today, the population is a mixed one, with elements of both Voormellei and old Earth stock, but culturally and politically, it is allied with the Voormellei.

The Seraeans have also had an intense interest in the planet for many years, and many of them have established cities and settlements on the planet, which have also contributed to the cultural and ethnic mix of the world.  Idacharians and also came here, and there is profuse evidence of prior Zetan gray presence, including ruins both on the surface and in orbit.  Some of them yet are seen here, either officially welcomed, or skulking around doing who knows what.

The reason for all of the interest in Tekeli-li is the presence of a dimensional "thinness" here.  While bulk drives can pierce the walls of normal space-time and enter the Outer Darkness, of course, the experience is not particularly insightful into the true nature of the Outer Darkness; travel through the bulk provides very little useful observational data, and it is extremely rare that any contact with anything that lives beyond our normal space-time continuum is every made.

But on Tekeli-li, entities from Beyond have occasionally come into our world many times.  These strange creatures, sometimes called sarmaks, molluscs, or even wellsians seem poorly adapted to our world; they resemble large, shapeless bags with large, hooded eyes, a toothy, strange-shaped maw, and many thin tentacles with which they laboriously haul their ungainly bulks across the landscape.  Because of their general unsuitability to our environment, they prefer to operate within advanced suits; large metal pods with deadly weapons and three long, spindly legs, with mechanical pseudopods or tentacles to manipulate things around them as needed.

In the past, these molluscs have come in force, and fought devastating wars against the inhabitants of Tekeli-li and the surrounding systems.  Lately, they appear, if they do at all, in small numbers, or singularly, working to inscrutable purposes.  Some remain on the surface, and have done so for presumably many, many years, and others come from Beyond when they come.

Cultists exploring the ruins of a gray outpost on Tekeli-li
The gray ruins are often particularly known as places where the thinness is strongest, and where disquieting sounds, dreams, and worse linger.  Because of this, they tend to be places where more recent settlement has not happened, and those who try to set up colonies near these ruins find that their colonies wither and fail, the colonists either leaving muttering disquieting rumors, or falling sickly and dying, or going insane.  However, the ruins are favorite haunts of the more disquieting types—Shadow Knights and their dark warlock brethren, Old Ones cultsts, Death Sages from the cyberliches, and worse.

Monday, May 15, 2017


System: Miroon
Hex Location: 2029
Star Type: K1 V
Number of Worlds: 10
Gas Giants: 0
Planetoid Belt: Two Asteroid belts and Kuiper belt present

Starport Type: A
World Size: Artificial stationary star-fleet
Atmosphere Type: Earth-like
Surface Water: N/A
Population: 90,000
Political Affiliation: Voormellei Federation (Allies of Carrick Grand Duchy)
Notes: Miroon is a human research colony who's origin is unknown.  An entire race of humans live here, many of whom have never set foot in an actual planet, and never felt gravity that isn't artificial.  That said, there are many planets in this system and although none of them are inhabited or even habitable, yet there remain many ruins of various kinds on the surfaces of several.  This race is believed to be the original race of Voormellei, which are extinct in that system now (except for those who have returned from neighboring systems.)  Extremely pale, the resemble Imperial humans in many respects except for their solid black, shark-like eyes, but clearly developed their culture in isolation if they are indeed descended in some way from the Seraeans.

Although not ruled by the cyberliches of Voormellei, they are closely associated with them, and at least half a dozen liches do live on the hollowed out asteroid city of Miroon.

The Carrick Grand Marches allies of the Voormellei Federation often prefer to come to Miroon instead of Voormellei, which is an extraordinarily inhospitable location for humans, but in spite of the apparently more familiar nature of the Miroonians compared to the cyberliches and their undead servitors, the reality is that the Miroonians are very alien in their culture and thought.  Prolonged exposure to the necromancy of Voormellei and the strange other-dimensional energies of Tekeli-li have made them nearly as strange and disturbing as the undead or the ghast-mutants in their own way.

In spite of their open alliance with the Carrick Grand Marches, the Miroonians do maintain a much more tolerant atmosphere to various enemies of the Monarchy.  Seraeans are often seen in Asteroid City, or in orbit nearby, or exploring the surface of the various airless rocky planets that make up the system.  In a reversal of the normal pattern, there are Reaver slaves who work asteroid and cometary mines and resource extraction.  Aliens of all kinds pass through Asteroid City; slaves going to market, mercenaries off to one of the various fronts, agents of the Great Powers, crime lords paying tribute to the Dhangetans, etc.  Miroon is an odd place, but it does qualify as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Friday, May 12, 2017

White box hitpoints

I've had Sword & Wizardry since at least it went free, and I've had the whitebox variant of it just as long.  Quite a while, in other words.  And I've even read most of it, even though I don't play with that system, but one thing in Whitebox (and White Star) that I just noticed, and had to re-read a few times to make sure that I wasn't misunderstanding it, was how hit points works.  It's really quite different than what I'm used to from the various versions of D&D that I've mostly played.  I don't know if it's the way it was done in OD&D or not, because I have little memory of the few times I've played OD&D, but I know that we never used this rule "back in the day" if it still existed in the BD&D, B/X, BECMI or AD&D games that I used to play, and certainly I've never seen it in anything from 3rd edition or beyond.

Every time you gain a new hit die (which isn't necessarily every level, keep in mind) rather than rolling and adding new hit points, you reroll your entire hit point total.  If it's higher than it was, you change it, if it's the same or lower, you keep your old total.

Both my AD ASTRA and the S&W:WB systems are designed—or modified, if you will, from the OGL core rule on which they're based in theory—to prevent the runaway hit point problem, which has been with D&D for many years.  Looking at a Barbarian from the SRD, for instance, it has a d12 hit die, and gets a new HD every level.  In addition to this, it starts with max hit points at first level (i.e., always assume you rolled a 12 on your d12 for 1st level) and it gets a bonus for its Constitution score, which could easily add an addition +3 to even +5 or +6 or so.  Every level.  A 1st level barbarian, therefore—and for the sake of argument, let's assume a dwarf barbarian who rolled an 18 to Con and added his racial bonus, getting a 20, or +5 bonus, would start at 1st level with 15 hit points.  Assuming an average roll of 7 for each new hit die acquired, with a +5 for Con bonus (to keep it simple, I'll assume that ability increases went to Strength throughout this career) would gain an additional 12 hit points each level.  At 20th level, his 15 hit points have increased to 243—and again, there are other bonuses he could contract through his career that would increase that even further.  And that's average; the maximum hit points he could have if he had really good rolls, would be almost 100 hit points higher still.

This, of course, means that there is no "flatness" to play; a 1st level character and a 20th level character are so fundamentally unlike as to essentially be operating in different genres altogether. (This same analysis can apply to more than just hit points, but for now, let's just keep it simple.)

Characters in AD ASTRA have only 10 levels (instead of 20) and have a specifically designed hit point flatness.  Starting at 1st level they have 10 plus their STR score in hit points, and every subsequent level, they gain +2 hit points.  There are no HD at all, actually, which means that there is also relatively little variability in their hit point totals.  A character built specifically to maximize hit points, for instance—a Carinan hulk with a +3 to STR, who rolled a max STR score to begin with, he'd start with a +7 STR, so 17 hit points.  Certainly someone capable of taking a few hits before going down.  Using the character backgrounds, he could (potentially) squeeze a few more hit points out of this—if he rolled High Gravity for Homeworld, there would be an additional +1, if he rolled Swept Into Adventure for his childhood, he could potentially get another +1, if he rolled Marooned on an Abandoned Planet for his First Adventure he'd get one more +1 plus an additional +1 hit point every level) and suffered a critical injury for his Critical Event, he could buy cybernetic equipment giving him up to +2 more.  He'd have 22 hit points at first level (and a monster STR score, but not anything else.)  Assuming he upgraded his cybernetics as soon as he could afford it to squeeze the last +1 out of that that he could, he'd have a maximum hit points at the end of his career at 10th level of 50 hit points.

That's what I consider fairly flat.  Keep in mind that most characters, of course, won't be built consciously to maximize hit points, so they'd start with hit point in the low to mid teens, and end up somewhere barely north of 30.  In both cases, we get a hit point increase over the course of a career of just over 100%—compared to most likely well over 1,000% for an SRD character.  There's a huge, order of magnitude less flatness in the SRD.

A 1st level character is relatively durable; in most cases, he can take a couple of hits in any given combat (maybe more if he's exceptionally durable or the damage rolls are low) before worrying about dying, but even at "high" level, he's still going to be vulnerable (albeit, not as much so) to the same threats that he was at 1st level.  A squadron of enemy soldiers; about half a dozen or so with radium carbines and one heavy weapon specialist with a tripod mounted or low slung radium cannon is a serious threat to either a 1st or a 10th level character if he's stupid enough to get ambushed, or to just run up and charge them, either way.

This doesn't mean that I want my games to be "grimdark" with loads of character death—I've purposefully made my characters rather durable, I think—but I don't want them to change genre as they advance.  At all points in their career, they'd resemble the swashbuckling characters of your typical Flash Gordon or Star Wars story, and like them, they can be killed in single combat by someone who's either lucky or tactically brilliant enough to put them on the ropes before he attacks, and not because they've had a long boring slog of a combat where hit points were chipped away little by little for many, many turns.

The White Star system, on the other hand—let's have a look at the Mercenary; the class with the most hit points.  It advances to 10th level, and gets a new hit die every one of those levels.  Figuring the average is mathematically more complicated (so I just looked up where someone else already did the work) but you start the game with 1+1 HD and all HD's are 6.  That means that your maximum hit points at 1st level is only 7, and your average is about 4.5 (I'm rounding to the nearest half.)  The absolute maximum you'd have, with 10 HD at 10th level is 60 hit points (if you literally rolled 10 6's—not very statistically likely) and your average at 10th level would be about 37.

This is a similar range to my system with three significant differences: 1) you suck at 1st level, and have barely better than a 50/50 chance of dying every single time you're hit.  Admittedly, however by 3rd or 4th level, you're comfortably in the teens, and by about 5th or 6th, you've caught up to where an AD ASTRA character would be.  You'll actually pass them (slightly) in terms of top range and average at high level, but not by much.  Although the range is the same on the top end, the flatness is not.  White Star characters have an extremely fragile first few levels that AD ASTRA characters do not, which will tend to significantly discourage swashbuckling heroics at low level.  2) There's a fair bit more variability in the White Star system too—at any given level, you might not gain any hit points at all, and then you might jump quite a few hit points the next time you roll, etc.  AD ASTRA hit points are probably too predictable.  You always know almost from 1st level, how many hit points you will have at any given level in the future, because other than rolling your STR score at chargen, the rest of it is not variable at all. (Of course, buying cybernetic equipment that raises your STR is the exception here.) Which I'm OK with.  Having crocked hit points is really frustrating, and having hit points be a derivative stat rather than a wildly fluctuating (by level) stat that has little relationship to the rest of your abilities isn't necessarily any more logical than the way I do it. Some people just like rolling hit points, though, because it's such a feature of the game and has been since 1974.  For them, AD ASTRA's system will probably feel wrong.  3)  I did hit points for a mercenary, because that's a lot of hit points compared to most classes.  A robot, on the other hand, only has 4 levels and tops out at 4 HD, or an average of 14.6 hit points (theoretical max of 24.  Theoretical minimum of 4!)  The same is true for yabnabs if you add Companion classes to the mix, although novomachina's reach 11 HD, so they actually do a little better than the mercenary; maximum theoretical hit points of 66, but an average of around 40.  Most of the character classes are, of course, comfortably somewhere in between these two points on the spectrum.  AD ASTRA doesn't have variable hit points by class like White Star or d20, or any other version of D&D really does.  The only variables on how many hit points you have are a) what's your STR score and b) what level are you.

Given that classes in AD ASTRA are more a la carte and less supposedly archetypal, this is completely OK to me.  Given that this is supposed to be a swashbuckling action game and levels are not supposed to make you go from a cowering nobody to a superhero who fears nothing, but that you're supposed to be a competent adventurer for the entire game, I think everything about my hit point system is a feature not a bug, and when stacked against this system, I still prefer it.  But I can see the point of guys who like to live a little more dangerously and introduce more variability into their hit point totals.  Over the course of a 10 level career (it's not necessarily a good assumption to believe that any game I'd run will actually run for 10 levels, though) the law of average will even out the impact of the random rolls considerably, but at any given level, you could be high or low and have to live with it until the next level when you try again.