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The date is sometime in the far future. The place is somewhere in the galaxy. Welcome to my world. Here you can become anyone. Say, a wizard battling cyber-zombies in the corridors of a starship, en route to a colony reliant on dieselpunk tech. Or a space marine gunning down [[vampires->Vampires]] for the glory of the Star Party and its beloved leader. How about a [[minotaur->Genemorphs]] trying to escape a high-tech Labyrinth governed by a mad AI? All that and more can happen in The Tales of Space and Magic.
How is that possible? Use your imagination. Briefly put, this is a roleplaying game -- essentially, make-pretend for adults. Friends gathering around a table on a hot summer evening to tell a story together. Exactly [[how to play->How to play]] is outside the scope of this book, though I'll give some pointers towards the end. For the most part, my goal is to immerse you in the setting and all its wonders.
The Tales of Space and Magic exist mainly as [[short stories->Stories]], published for free or a low, low price in various places online. This book simply collects all there is to know about [[the setting->Setting overview]] in one place, along with some exclusive background information. My goal is to show you the main options and how they fit into a whole, so you can do your own thing on this playground while remaining internally consistent.
Besides, some people enjoy simply reading about fantastic worlds and universes. Hopefully you'll find mine entertaining.
Felix Pleşoianua science-fantasy setting for roleplaying games[[Contents]]
[[License]]!! Table of Contents
# [[Setting overview]]<br>Emigration; War and trade; Adventure
# [[Transhumans]]<br>Cyborgs; Genemorphs; Vampires; Sorcerers
# [[Magic]]<br>Wizardry; Sorcery; Powering magic: mana; Permanent enchantments; The skills involved; Spell failure; Downsides of magic
# [[Technology]]<br>Space travel; Terraforming; Life expansion; Cybernetics; Replicators; Weapons
# [[The Midway Stars]]<br>New Antaea; Helia; Asendow; Caduca; Lundalur
# [[How to play]]<br>Character creation; The meat of the game; Ending the game
# [[Sample adventure]]<br>Opening scenes; The search; Getting in; Finding the survivors; Meeting the hosts; Getting outSeveral stories are referenced throughout the text, all of them available online, most of them for free:
* //Little Magic//: shipwrecked on a distant shore, with no hope of returning home, Jinx only possesses one thing of value: a unique magical ability. But soon that will make all the difference in the world. A planetary romance novelette, for sale [[at Smashwords|https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/403290]] and [[on Leanpub|https://leanpub.com/little-magic]].
* //Vryheid//: a novel about freedom, power and what it means to be the boss, set in an exotic far-future city where transhumanism takes strange forms and outsiders find their values challenged. For sale [[at Smashwords|https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/615633]] and [[on Leanpub|https://leanpub.com/vryheid]].
* //[[Peripheral|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/Peripheral]]//: cyberpunk epistolary novelette about a rich teenager in hiding on the edges of a near-future society that's falling apart, who learns a different way of life and that things aren't black and white.
* //[[Parole Planet|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/ParolePlanet]]//: science fiction novelette about a young man stranded on a distant planet, among strangers with odd customs... that will slowly change him.
* //[[Bazaar in the Stars|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/BazaarInTheStars]]//: short story I wrote on a whim and had unexpected success with.
* //[[Arrow in the Sky|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/ArrowInTheSky]]//: prequel to Bazaar in the Stars; based on a friend's characters and outline.
* //[[Second Contact|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/SecondContact]]//: short surreal piece based in the same setting; a story of massive culture shock.
* //[[Distant Encounters|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/DistantEncounters]]//: on a lost colony recently rediscovered, some people will kill to maintain their power now that the starships are returning. (Much longer sequel to //Second Contact//.)
* //[[Collectivity|http://felix.plesoianu.ro/wiki/index.php/Sci-fi/Collectivity]]//: space opera novelette that reimagines and reinvents the Borg from Star Trek.
Special thanks to [[Irina Rempt|http://valdyas.org/]] for the corrections, and to the many friends who encouraged me.
Made with [[Twine|http://twinery.org/]]; font: [[Germano|https://fontlibrary.org/en/font/germano]].
<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/"><img alt="Creative Commons License" style="border-width:0" src="https://i.creativecommons.org/l/by-sa/4.0/88x31.png" /></a><br /><span xmlns:dct="http://purl.org/dc/terms/" href="http://purl.org/dc/dcmitype/InteractiveResource" property="dct:title" rel="dct:type">Tales of Space and Magic</span> by <a xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" href="http://felix.plesoianu.ro/" property="cc:attributionName" rel="cc:attributionURL">Felix Pleşoianu</a> is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License</a>.
If you like what I did here, you can buy the original PDF edition [[from itch.io|https://notimetoplay.itch.io/tales-of-space-and-magic]] or [[at Leanpub|https://leanpub.com/tales-of-space-and-magic]]. Thank you.!! Setting overview
It's been many centuries since humanity has spread among the stars. Exactly how many, it's hard to say, between all the different calendars and inevitable data loss. But general consensus is that we're roughly as far from the 21st century as the 21st century was from King Minos of Crete. Time enough for human beings to learn how to travel faster than light, build settlements all around the galaxy and change themselves sometimes past the point of recognition. We've even met aliens at last, but they turned out to be so strange that little understanding was possible. So nowadays we mostly stay out of each other's way. The galaxy is large enough for that.
Where do I even begin to describe life in this era? People live in anything from vast, luxurious cities with kilometer-tall buildings to lost colonies that have reverted to preindustrial levels. Likewise, forms of government range from historical to outrageous experiments. Either way, the scales involved mean that polities seldom span more than a continent, let alone multiple star systems. And casual space travel makes it hard to keep people where they don't want to stay... or to find them again once they leave.
As a general rule, the closer you are to Earth, the more populous and developed the planets, while farther out [[technology->Technology]] and people alike become more exotic. Colonies, too, become more spaced out as you move away from the motherworld, reflecting the gradual increase in hyperdrive speeds over the ages.
# [[War and trade]]
> "So, what's the deal with her?" he asked the bigger boy.
> "What do you mean?... Oh."
> "Yeah, that. She's no alien -- there's no such thing as aliens -- but she can't be human either... can she?"
> "Think about it. She's a hacker. And nowadays we can tweak genes or perform surgery from within with nanobots."
> "So... she hacked her own body? But why? The whole reason we're on another planet at all is that Homo Sapiens is flexible."
> "Indeed. Jacks of all trades, masters of none. Sometimes that's more constraining than liberating."
> -- //Parole Planet//
Envied by some, feared by others, transhumans -- or "the augmented", as they are known in various cultures -- have been in turn outcasts, saviors, rulers, and outcasts again. Then humanity took to the stars, and things became really complicated.
It's still traditional on the far side of the galaxy for spacers to augment themselves, while ground-bound people tend to remain baseline, and there's a rivalry between the two groups. In more civilized parts, where [[space travel->Space travel]] is safer, people mix up more... and that leads to more varied social dynamics. Not always in a good sense, either.
As for what transhumans actually //are//, there have been all sorts of experiments and hybrids over the centuries, but in time a few categories have become typical.
# [[Transhuman F.A.Q.]]
> "Magic? Now you're pulling my leg... Captain."
> "You're talking to a cat," pointed out the cat. "But all right. What we really do is harness dark energy to alter the behavior of fundamental particles on a Planck scale via self-replicating femtoscale actuators."
> The young man opened and closed his mouth a few times. Fundamental particles sounded vaguely familiar... maybe.
> "See what I mean? It's easier to just call it magic."
> -- //Second Contact//
Magic didn't always exist, that much every child knows. People created it, during the troubled times that followed the first wave of space colonization. For centuries, magic was in turn a mystery, a weapon of conquest, a taboo, a tool of discovery and more. Wars were fought over the secret, only to put it into everyone's hands by the end. You see, magic is like information: it spreads, and once it has taken hold on a world, getting rid of it again can prove all but impossible.
But what is it that magic does? Briefly put, it changes the rules.
That's it -- at its core, magic simply forces matter to behave in ways it's not supposed to. In this regard, it's similar to forcefields, or hyperdrives. Indeed, the line between technology and magic can be thin at the very edges of human knowledge.
Luckily, magic can be mastered as well, and there are at least two big ways to do that.
# [[Powering magic: mana->Mana]]
# [[Permanent enchantments->Enchantments]]
# [[The skills involved]]
# [[Spell failure]]
# [[Downsides of magic]]
# [[Magic F.A.Q.]]
> They dodged several patrols on their tortuous way to the spaceport. It wasn't just the labyrinthine nature of the place; the crowd had thickened in the past few hours. At least Fuchs finally had time to admire the wares. Here, a whole aquatic ecosystem thrived in a crystal globe about the size of his head. There, a walking, talking optical illusion hawked portable holes and real, headache-inducing tesseracts. He snapped a few photos with the camera buttons on the sleeves of his coat. It was the next best thing to affording all those little wonders. He almost exchanged his new clothes for a hoverboard, but reconsidered. What was the point of a hoverboard if you didn't look good on it?
> -- //Bazaar in the Stars//
It's a well-known paradox that the more advanced technology is, the less it //looks// like technology. Someone from the Bronze Age would easily recognize a van or convertible as some sort of vehicle, but a smartphone would be just a slab of glass to them... at least until it turns on. In an age when people can practically tell the laws of physics to take a coffee break, this rule can be taken to the extreme.
But the same can apply to mundane tech as well. Superficially, a refrigerator is just a box. Well, so is a replicator. And in a galaxy where people can move wormholes around, nobody will think too hard about a box that's bigger on the inside.
The tremendous effects of advanced technology on everyday life are
# [[Space travel]]
# [[Life expansion]]
# [[Technology F.A.Q.]]!! The Midway Stars
Ages ago, humans circumnavigated the galaxy. They did so slowly, hopping from star to star roughly along Sol's galactic orbit, keeping a cautious distance from the galactic core. A few of them abandoned the trip to settle down along the way, in a thin string of worlds highlighting the galactic disc. Most of these worlds were later forgotten, leaving the rest isolated.
Even fewer explorers returned from the other side.
For centuries, little if any information made its way back toward the Orion Arm, and speculation abounded. Rumors of exotic technology beyond the reach of the older worlds. Rumors of star empires in the process of expanding. Rumors of opportunity and danger bigger than anything mankind had seen before. But nothing came back from there for a long time, and the very occasional new expedition either returned early or not at all.
It all changed ten years ago.
The first visitors from the far side of the galaxy were mistaken for aliens at first, strange and powerful beings who barely distinguished [[technology->Technology]] from [[magic->Magic]] anymore. They proved to be the exception rather than the rule, curious children of humanity coming to see with their own eyes, or whatever else they had, where their ancestors came from. Reactions along their path spawned the entire spectrum from panic to excitement, but little else happened for a while.
Then others followed, and all those forgotten worlds along the ancient migration path used all that time ago suddenly became important again.
To list even a few of the major players on either side of the galaxy would be a daunting task. The Orion Arm alone harbors thousands of settled worlds, with a total population in the trillions. Multiply by a hundred for the bigger galactic arms flanking it (while dividing the average population by ten), and you'll get an idea of the scales involved. As for all those colonies across the galaxy, any attempt at a survey is doomed to failure. Hence why this chapter will focus on just a few worlds that happen to be in a position of strategic importance these days.
Located halfway around the galaxy from Sol in a spinward direction, the Midway Stars are a small group of systems that have recently risen to prominence thanks to the reopening of ancient travel routes. Between three major powers lie a number of smaller polities, including former lost colonies that were recently contacted again. Distances tend to be longer than in more densely settled parts of the galaxy -- hundreds of light years, and weeks of travel -- but any settlement able to resupply passing ships has been growing fast as of late, at the risk of attracting pirates. There are never enough warships to patrol the vastness of space.
# [[New Antaea]]
!! How to play
They call it tabletop roleplaying, because that used to be the only way to play: a handful of friends gathered around a table, with dice and maps, pen and paper, snacks and soda. But none of those ingredients is essential, apart from the players -- and the spirit. Since the advent of the Internet, it turned out that roleplaying games can be played just as fine over realtime chat, e-mail, or even forums. (The latter style is known as play-by-post, PBP for short.) And while that changes the pacing and dynamics, the basics remain much the same.
Roleplaying games are fundamentally cooperative. The goal is to tell a story together with your friends, having fun along the way. There's some preparation involved, and a few rules, but mostly it's all about improvisation; a witty, snappy back-and-forth with your fellow players.
# [[Character creation]]
# [[The meat of the game]]
# [[Ending the game]]
# [[How to play F.A.Q.]]
!! Sample adventure
Knowing how to play is all good and well, but running an adventure takes rather more preparation than beginning game masters expect. It's tempting not to think too much in advance, since players are likely to fly off the rails shortly after the start, anyway. (Yes, that happens, and make no mistake, it's a good thing that they can; otherwise they might as well play computer RPGs.) But the trick with spontaneity is that it needs lots of prep work...
This is a sample adventure for the Tales of Space and Magic universe, loosely based on a short story called //Collectivity//. A lot of details have been added and changed, to make it more appropriate for the medium. As a game master, feel free to change it even further to suit your needs. It's only intended as a starting point.
The players will need a ship for this adventure, and it's assumed they already have one (see the chapter on how to play). Size and power are of little importance though, since there won't be much in the way of space battles -- or at least, not the kind where the players' ship can make a difference.
# [[Opening scenes]]
# [[The search]]
# [[Getting in]]
# [[Finding the survivors]]
# [[Meeting the hosts]]
# [[Getting out]]!!! Emigration
Either way, most people never leave the planet they were born on. After all, any of the older worlds provide enough opportunity for adventure to fill a lifetime. Or at least, what used to count as a lifetime. Space age medicine has [[lengthened the human lifespan->Life expansion]] so much that practically people no longer die of natural causes (unless of course they're kept away from proper treatment).
That means a world's population can grow faster than its ability to sustain life. Doubly so since most planets aren't as life-friendly as Earth, even with terraforming. And when that happens, finding a new planet to settle is a better long-term solution than building giant space stations for example, or hollowing asteroids -- though people do that as well.!!! War and trade
You see, thanks to hyperdrive it's not that much harder to reach a planet light years away compared to one in the same star system. And where there are distant locales, people will find reason to travel. Take trade, for example: in principle, most goods people need can be obtained in any star system, and a colony that can't provide all the basics for itself isn't worthy of the name. But there are exceptions to any rule. Antimatter can only be produced in expensive high-tech facilities not every polity can afford to build and operate. DNA samples are more useful in the form of living organisms than digital files. One-time encryption pads need to be shared via physical media to be useful, pretty much by definition.
And when trade can't get people what they want, they resort to war.
It's been said that all wars ultimately have an economic motivation, regardless of any ideological pretext. And sure enough, most wars in this age are local, for the reasons outlined above. But people aren't rational, and the first interstellar war happened as soon as there //were// extra-solar colonies to fight over. It was especially ruinous, wrecking the economies of entire planets for decades. Not that people ever learned...
Besides, in order to fight someone, you first have to find them in the vastness of the galaxy. And that's really hard if they're intent on hiding. There are simply [[too many stars->The Midway Stars]] to choose from.!!! Adventure
Ultimately, most people fly to the stars to get away. Away from an oppressive government, away from other people, away from routine... Out there you'll find rebels, people on sabbaticals, explorers poking at some yet-unexplored corner of space. It doesn't even have to be very far from home. And some people actually take their home with them around the galaxy.
Even so, going that far out is dangerous. Away from civilization, even minor health problems can turn into a disaster, not to mention failing machinery. So the people who go off into the void must be able to know more, do more and die hard. They have to be more than human.
[[We have a word for that, too.->Transhumans]]!!! Cyborgs
> You know what else I saw this morning? Cyborgs. At least they had to be, with those eyes that sometimes glow and circuits tattooed all over. Creepy-cool. Didn't think I'd ever meet one. I mean, we buy contraband from them, like 3D printers, but they're supposed to live far from the big cities because what they do to themselves is illegal. Then again, who's going to notice if a few of them lurk around the periphery? They can probably hack drones just by looking at them.
> -- //Peripheral//
Developed at the end of the Oil Age to provide basic health support where qualified doctors were in short supply, medical nanobots were designed to boost immunity, speed up healing and control pain. They proved capable of much more. Hackers soon figured out how to use them to give themselves superhuman memory, reflexes and even wireless network interfaces, at the cost of obvious body alterations. Sidelined for a while, the original medical functions of a cyborg's nanobots proved essential again once space colonization began in earnest, and people could find themselves stuck far away from civilization for years at a time.
Ordinary people can turn into cyborgs through a weeks-long process that involves considerable discomfort. There is a small risk of rejection that leads to temporary of permanent disabilities. This risk increases with the patient's age; the optimal time to apply the treatment is around 16-17 years old, or after a full [[regen treatment->Life expansion]].
A cyborg's typical powers haven't changed much over the ages, but each individual is unique in the end. Looks are more varied; most cyborgs end up with the skin tinted in unusual colors such as blue or gold, and they have visible patterns shaped like circuit boards, or else "seams" that glow when the body is overheated -- which happens after relatively little exertion, especially if they use cyborg abilities.
For security reasons, a cyborg's nanobots only accept new instructions in the form of chemicals injected into the bloodstream. If somehow they are deactivated or removed from the body, the cyborg is crippled until they can be stabilized via conventional medicine. Unless they're given new nanobots soon, they will then revert to being baseline.!!! Genemorphs
> He had no idea how long he had stayed like that, bent forward against the wind, before he became aware of someone staring at him. At first Sylvain thought his eyes were deceiving him: it was a catboy, straight out of a manga, complete with mobile triangular ears and a fuzzy tail that flicked nervously behind him as he squatted, looking up at the young man with yellow eyes sporting vertical pupils. The eyes of a prey animal ready to pounce.
> Sylvain's hand darted instinctively towards his sidearm. But he didn't have the time to point it. With a blindingly fast motion, the catboy swiped at his wrist, leaving behind four parallel gashes.
> -- //Distant Encounters//
The first extrasolar colonies were well-established by the time medical science figured out how to tweak a living being's genetic code on the go without harming them. It took even longer for the procedure to become popular. Early adopters were again spacers and pioneers, who could be stuck for years far away from civilization, and/or in extreme environments (as [[terraforming->Terraforming]] takes time, and seldom yields //friendly// worlds -- more like barely habitable, usually).
Baseline humans can become 'morphs in a matter of months, under strict medical supervision, which is necessary to avoid system shock and death. The optimal age to undergo the treatment is in the early twenties. It's technically possible to reverse the changes later, but it puts so much stress on the patient it's not recommended, except soon after a lengthy [[regen treatment->Life expansion]] and measures taken to fortify the body.
Genemorphs are the most varied brand of [[transhuman->Transhumans]], but typically they exhibit superhuman stamina, pain resistance and even strength, in addition to healing easily from injuries. Since these abilities derive from genetic changes, and genes tend to have multiple uses, genemorphs also exhibit animal-like traits such as horns, tails, mobile ears or even fur. These can vary from mostly cosmetic to massive changes. In fact, genemorphs are divided into "light" and "heavy" by whether they can still have children with baseline humans or not.
Either way, genemorphs have rapid metabolisms and need massive calorie intake, even if they don't exert themselves. That also shortens their natural lifespans, so they need regen treatments more often.
Once notable exception are dragons, a morph type designed with the express purpose of surviving direct exposure to raw magic, which is otherwise lethal (see [[Sorcerers]]). That makes the gene pack popular among wizards. Unlike most genemorphs, dragons have slower metabolism and are naturally long-lived. However, they can't usually fly without assistance, their vestigial wing membranes being good for slowing down falls at best.
Numerous other standard gene packs have been developed, and custom morphs are possible as well.
> The girl tripped him expertly. He landed face down, rebounded, and tried to crawl away on all fours. But she was already kneeling besides him, one arm wrapped around his neck. Doran's body felt numb all of a sudden. Had her long black fingernails just scraped against his skin? He wasn't sure anymore; he tried to grab her wrist, but his fingers wouldn't bend. There was a weight on his back, and a piercing pain somewhere below his ear, but even that felt distant. He couldn't tell how much time had passed.
> -- //Vryheid//
No, they're not undead. There's no such thing as undead. Vampires are very much alive, needing food and water (not to mention air) in addition to about half a liter of blood a week in order to survive. That's fresh human blood; they can survive on refrigerated or animal blood, but the farther from the ideal it is, the more they need.
The origins of vampires are unknown. Most commonly they are explained as the result of a new brand of medical nanobots, gone wrong. On some worlds they are deemed to be a myth; on others, they do their level best to stay hidden, on pain of being hunted down and killed. In a few places they can even live in the open, getting what they need from blood banks or farms.
Vampires can't get sick, and they heal from any injuries much faster than baseline humans. They also don't age, and with enough blood they can also grow younger, down to 17 years old. As long as they get more blood than the absolute minimum, they also manifest superhuman speed (though less than a cyborg) and strength (but less than genemorphs).
In the way of downsides, a vampire's skin and eyes are very sensitive to natural sunlight (unless it's a colder sun -- class K or M), so they need to be well-protected going outside by day. If deprived of blood, they first develop uncontrollable thirst for it. After two or three weeks they also begin to age rapidly, and at the end of forty days or so enter a form of suspended animation that allows them to survive for years. If a vampire's nanobots are somehow deactivated or destroyed, they start aging fast, and die soon unless [[regen treatments->Life expansion]] can be applied. If they survive the system shock, that makes them baseline again.
A baseline human or [[genemorph->Genemorphs]] can turn vampire in days, simply by getting a significant amount of vampire blood in contact with their own, for example through a large open wound, or outright transfusion (vampires have blood type O). That can happen at any age, but teenage or younger people are at risk of complications. Vampire nanobots are incompatible with [[cyborg->Cyborgs]] nanobots and will destroy each other if mixed, killing their owner.
Because many people mistrust or fear vampires even in cultures where they're otherwise accepted, they have a strong taboo against entering somebody's home uninvited.
> He started raising his pistol, but the lightning from my wand was faster. It arced all over the room before finding his body, and the man fell, twitching. I took both his weapons, but ignored the keychain. Too fiddly, and there was no time. The lock to the cell door turned into rust under my touch. Wisely, neither Sal nor Manfredo asked any questions while I armed them and led them up the stairs, then out the gate, past a human chain that ferried buckets of sand inside as fast as they could. We were going the wrong way, leaving behind the only means of calling down a shuttle, but that was no longer an option.
> -- //Little Magic//
Magic is real in this galaxy, and it's as dangerous as it is useful: a volatile, hazardous non-material that's highly toxic to most living beings. (Or at least those originating on Earth: we can only speculate whether aliens even have their own form of magic.) Humans die within hours of exposure, unless they happen to be [[dragonmoprhs->Genemorphs]]. Little else can save them.
Except for one thing: if the victim is very young, at most a few years of age, a combination of gene hacks and specialized medical nanobots has a chance of saving their life. This procedure requires advanced facilities and lasts for months or years if it succeeds at all. The risk of failure is so high, exposing a child to raw magic on purpose is considered attempted murder in most civilized polities.
Survivors of the procedure gain the ability to cast spells [[just by thinking of it->Sorcery]], at the cost of having a frail body. Usually they also sport visible body alterations, such as pointed ears, a tail, or patches of skin covered in scales. As each sorcerer has a different balance of gene hacks and nanobots, they are all unique. But they can't have any cybernetic implants, because magic messes with technology, and their nanobots don't get along with any other type.
Sorcerers die if the raw magic in their bodies is successfully dispelled, or if they are cut off from ambient mana for too long. Loss of their nanobots is survivable if they can be given a replacement load soon. There is no way a sorcerer can become baseline again.
!!! Transhuman F.A.Q.
<dl><dt>What about AI and mind uploads?</dt><dd>Mind upload is possible, but the procedure is often imperfect, and mind //download// is only speculative. As for artificial intelligence... it's a crapshoot. No known technique can produce true AIs reliably, so they're rare.</dd>
<dt>Are medical / [[cyborg->Cyborgs]] / vampire nanobots affected by EMPs?</dt><dd>No more than the human body itself. Nanobots designed to work inside the body are basically just smarter white cells, made from organic materials. They can also self-replicate to a degree to cover losses.</dd>
<dt>Are there hybrid, exotic or other types of transhumans?</dt><dd>Sure. [[Genemorphs]] can become cyborgs or [[vampires->Vampires]], and there are other ways to improve on baseline humans. Rumor has it that on the far side of the galaxy people are even moving into the realm of the posthuman by now.</dd>
<dt>Can [[transhumans->Transhumans]] other than genemorphs have children?</dt><dd>Yes, of course. Cyborgs and vampires are genetically human, and their nanobots stick to the bloodstream, so they're fine. [[Sorcerers]] however would endanger their own partners and children if they tried, as every cell of their bodies contains magic.</dd></dl>
> "The first thing any wizard learns is how to detect magic. The second thing any wizard learns is how to dispel magic. But in order to cast any spell at all, you will need to know the language of magic..."
> -- Jinx, //Little Magic//
Charging an object with raw [[magic->Magic]] is easy: all you have to do is rub bits on it from another that's already charged. For example, by scribbling with an enchanted writing implement. But mere scribbles won't do much; without direction, magic will simply fizzle after a while.
Conversely, magical symbols (often called runes, though they have nothing to do with the ancient runic alphabet) have no intrinsic power. You can write them down all day long with an ordinary pen and nothing will happen. That's how wizards can safely keep grimoires.
In order to cast spells, you need the intersection of the two: a spell written down in one of the languages that can control magic, with an instrument already pervaded by magic. Anything will do, from a piece of chalk to the fanciest fountain pen; and of course you can use one to enchant the other. From the moment it's completed, the spell is active and using up mana, even though it might idle until a trigger condition is met.
Any wizard will also have some sort of means for detecting magic, and a way of dispelling it if the need arises. What form they take depends on the wizard's style: a magnifying glass and monogrammed handkerchief? High-tech goggles and a spray? Magitech can take many shapes.
But what can a written spell //do//? As with most things in life, the answer is "it depends". A few runes quickly scrawled on a wall can absorb most light from a room, for example, or make a wall intangible for a few moments. A more elaborate magical circle might turn the surface it's drawn on into a reverse Maxwell's Demon, that heats up objects moving across it in one direction, and cools them down if they go the other way. For even more sophisticated effects, one might need a computer with special software and a suitable peripheral, such as an enchanted printer.
In fact, these three styles of casting are called the First, Second and Third Form, respectively. (Although ironically they were developed in the opposite order.) The more advanced forms are harder to learn and slower to cast, but they allow for more finesse and efficiency, using less mana for the same spell duration and area of effect.
> Bright light flashed in his peripheral vision, and the air crackled.
> "What did I tell you about harassing people on our turf?" snapped a new, clear voice.
> "He's no people," came the disdainful retort, "just a lousy human."
> "Our turf, our rules, Aapt. Get out!"
> Doran shook his head, thinking more clearly by the moment. The horned man was arguing with... someone. A dark shape with an outstretched hand holding a small wand still buzzing with electricity, and whose feet didn't touch the ground.
> -- //Vryheid//
[[Magic]] can break [[technology->Technology]], because it messes with the laws of physics. But with life, it plays havoc. Most living beings die in hours if exposed to raw magic -- which spreads through the body faster than it would in dead matter, even when undirected. That's why [[wizards->Wizardry]] have a rule never to try and [[enchant->Enchantments]] something that's alive.
But accidents happen, and space age medicine has figured out ways to save people exposed to magic. It's a lengthy, painful treatment that only works on children a few years old at most, and even then survival is far from guaranteed. But those who do survive become [[sorcerers->Sorcerers]] -- able to cast spells just by thinking of it.
Of course, a sorcerer can only cast simple spells, and with limited control at that. They pay for it by having frail bodies with obvious modifications, which can be a problem in cultures that look down on magic, transhumans or both. They also die if someone successfully dispels the magic in their body, or simply if they're completely cut off from ambient mana for too long. On the plus side, they can see magic without external help (or hear it, smell it... it's a personal thing). They can also cast faster than any wizard.
As for their abilities, for one thing sorcerers can make themselves float in the air or pass through walls for example. With a focus, such as a small iron wand, they can also do things like throw lightning (not that you can hit anything that way, but it's great for intimidation). Why the focus? So they don't get 3rd-degree burns on their fingers, of course. Magically created lightning is still just high-voltage electricity.
Sorcerers require [[mana->Mana]] for casting in the same way wizards do.
!!! Powering magic: mana
> They were into a courtyard paved with gravel, where people sat on benches at long wooden tables, sipping drinks that fizzled, glowed or bubbled, sometimes all at once. Blobs of light moved slowly overhead, providing illumination, and Doran didn't need a detector to know they were literally magical. The small but decorative mana well in the center of the yard confirmed his suspicion.
> -- //Vryheid//
[[Magic]] is a subtle force, and its source of power is equally subtle. Mana fills the universe, but interacts little with non-magical things. Enchant any object, though, and it will start quietly collecting it -- charging up, as it were. That's enough to power a simple spell for minutes at a time, every few hours. For magic of greater size and complexity, you need reserves.
A mana well is a device to capture and condense mana from a wider area (proportional to its size) and dish it steadily to any active spells in the vicinity. Like magic detectors and dispelling devices, it can be made with technological means, and in fact that's a more efficient and reliable way. Mana wells can vary in size from pocketable to building-sized, they power and range of influence varying accordingly. In fact, a single large one will be more efficient than several small ones, and more stable, too.
Mana wells can power big, complex spells for long stretches of time. But it's still possible to drain them, and once drained they will need a long time to start working again. This has caused the demise of many an overambitious [[wizard->Wizardry]], so beware.
!!! Permanent enchantments
> So at the first opportunity we enchanted the family cart.
> Oh, it was nothing fancy. A one-off spell to reinforce it, another to make the axles spin more freely regardless of any greasing, and a more permanent enchantment to make anything placed in it lighter until taken out again. Finally, we made it so that none of this would be easily noticeable. Even our mirror didn't show any sparkling except from very close up and the right angles. (My own eyes were another story, but I knew where to look.) It did dampen the flow of mana, and therefore the effect, but you can't have them all.
> -- //Little Magic//
Casting one-off spells is all good and well, but it can be tedious and time-consuming. Moreover, sometimes you just need [[magic->Magic]] to stay put rather than dissipating after doing its job. That's where enchantments come in.
The simplest enchantment is one that doesn't do anything, but just sits there; this is useful for making e.g. a pen with which to cast more spells. Another typical use is to make a wand that generates a certain effect (say, a freezing ray) any time it's triggered in some manner. This allows anyone to use magical effects without knowing how to create them, and saves a [[wizard->Wizardry]] time.
Making an enchantment is more complicated than casting the one-off version of the same spell, but doesn't use more [[mana->Mana]]. In fact an idle enchantment needs very little, and can sustain itself indefinitely from ambient mana. But an enchantment will fade out in time unless specially prepared, which takes extra skill proportional to its complexity. Doubly so if it goes unused for too long.
Last but not least, it's not possible to place two enchantments on the same item. That much magic will make matter break down, spilling its charge over anything in the immediate vicinity, in the form of residue that may have random effects and/or fail to fizzle out by itself.
!!! The skills involved
Obviously, a [[wizard->Wizardry]] needs to master the languages of [[magic->Magic]] in order to cast any spells. They also need to master rhythm, because from the moment you start writing down runes, the spell or [[enchantment->Enchantments]] is live, and unless you finish on time, it will go off half-cocked.
Spell complexity is harder to measure, but as a general rule, if you can describe what it does in two words ("emit light", or "make transparent"), that's within the reach of a beginning wizard, and any additional word roughly corresponds to one more level of training.
On the other hand, the difficulty of dispelling magic is proportional to the //size// of the spell, unless it's actively protected against dispelling. Protecting a spell like that requires extra casting time depending on the level of protection, but only another wizard of comparable skill will be able to dispel it.
[[Sorcerers->Sorcery]], of course, cast spells just by thinking of them. That means they can learn more spells than a wizard with the same amount of training, since they don't need to remember runes, or write them down. But on the flip side, they require a lot more training to cast spells of any complexity, since they have to keep it all in their heads.
Note that by default a spell lasts for moments at best, and covers a small radius. Changing the area of effect and duration, or making it directional, are extra complications. Spells over a certain size may take multiple wizards to cast, or else some ingenious solution.
The most obvious way to make a spell fail is to interrupt the caster.
It's also possible for a [[wizard->Wizardry]]'s hand to slip. They can pace it wrong, or get the runes wrong, especially if casting from memory. Either way, the botched spell will either do nothing (if you're lucky), or else have unexpected effects.
Another way for spells to fail is to run out of [[mana->Mana]], or not have enough in the first place. A one-off spell will simply fizzle out; an [[enchantment->Enchantments]] will falter and become idle at first.
You can't have too many active spells in close proximity either. They will start feeding off each other, with random unwanted effects if not outright violent reactions.
But the most spectacular kind of failure is when a spell runs out of control.
Spells collect their own mana to a degree, and if a spell covers a wide enough area, it runs a risk of becoming self-sustaining. At that point it will consume anything in its path, only stopping at the vacuum of space in its blind drive to perform its original effect -- if it hasn't forgotten it along the way. That's why [[magic->Magic]] users have a strong taboo against casting so-called unbounded spells, without a set limit on either size or duration. Essentially, this is the nuclear option. It can only be stopped with extraordinary means, if at all.
!!! Downsides of magic
If [[magic->Magic]] is so powerful and flexible, why aren't people using it more?
For one thing, magic is volatile. Too many active spells in one place have a good change to blow up in your face. If you're lucky, it won't be literal...
Second, magic isn't as reliable as [[technology->Technology]]. Mana flow can fluctuate unpredictably. A long duration spell can fizzle out. Certain devices such as forcefields can interfere with spellcasting -- just like magic can interfere with technological devices. A simple wheelcart will keep working (not to mention //being there//) long after fancier levitation spells have expired.
Third, not everyone has the required mindset for learning how to cast spells, and of those who do, not everyone will have the time and inclination. And because magic doesn't scale (you can't enchant items industrially or they'll reach a critical mass and go haywire), there is only so much of it to go around.
Properly applied, magic is a game changer -- here and now. But for longterm, wide scale solutions you need to look elsewhere.
!!! Magic F.A.Q.
<dl><dt>Can anyone cast spells the [[wizardly->Wizardry]] way?</dt><dd>In principle, yes, if they have access to a grimoire and magical pen. But in practice, they have a good chance to botch even the simplest spell, and not even know what they did wrong. So it's a desperate solution at best.</dd>
<dt>Can [[mana->Mana]] be blocked?</dt><dd>Yes, by non-magical means such as certain forcefields. Spells can at best divert some of the flow, which can potentially starve large or complex enchantments. And overuse of mana can also make spellcasting temporarily impossible in an area.</dd></dl>
!!! Space travel
> Casandro nodded as he pushed the throttle. "They'll be far behind by then. I'm yet to see the rocket engine that can measure up to a good set of leviters."
> They both watched tensely as their pursuers were falling behind, not even trying to keep up.
> "We're going right where they want us, aren't we?"
> There was a brief burst of radiation far ahead, and another ship came out of hyper, cutting them off. A big one.
> "Yep." concluded Jake.
> "Time for plan B then. Call for help?"
> Jake tapped an indicator. "No network here. Uncharted star systems, remember?"
> "Then how are they coordinating?"
> "Do you want to call and ask?" The Trashcan shook. "What now?"
> "Tractor beam. And we're accelerating right into it." He swore under his breath, as turning the control yoke had little effect other than pushing them into their chairs as the ship banked hard.
> -- //Arrow in the Sky//
Obviously there would be no [[galactic civilization->The Midway Stars]] if space travel wasn't relatively easy (as in, it doesn't take decades and superhuman efforts to prepare a trip of a few light years). But the first hurdle is still getting off the ground, and that's where leviters come in.
Simply put, a leviter counters a planet's gravity, allowing a vehicle to get into orbit without ejecting enormous amount of reaction mass. You still need to expend power equal to the vehicle's potential energy, plus any losses: leviters are 99.9% efficient. An offshoot of the same principle allows spaceships to generate artificial gravity without the need for continuous acceleration or rotating sections, and to ensure crews aren't squished during a sudden maneuver. Yet another related piece of equipment is the tractor beam, essentially a focused cone of artificial gravity that can pull objects towards each other in space -- the opposite of a leviter, as it were.
In space, reaction drives are still preferred for most applications, especially in the military. For one thing, thrusters are more robust than leviters, since they can be as simple as a pressure tank with a nozzle. By the same token, a thruster can be buried deep within the ship, leaving only the nozzle out, while leviters have to be mounted on the outside. Last but not least, leviters can't be used together with deflector shields. On the plus side, they can provide very high thrust, at the cost of an exponential increase in energy use.
This is only possible thanks to the a-core, a device than can turn matter directly into energy with 99.9% efficiency, safely and within a reasonably small package. But a-cores are expensive, and not as robust as more primitive power plants, so they're only used where nothing else would do.
Then, of course, there is hyperdrive. How it works is a question best left unasnwered. Suffice to say, it can move a spaceship from point A to point B much faster than relativity would normally allow. How fast? A small freighter might do 5000 times the speed of light, while a ship built to circumnavigate the galaxy can easily be five to six times as fast. They can only remain in hyper mode for a few weeks at a time, though, after which they need a cooldown interval of one hour per two or three days spent in hyper.
Ships in hyper mode can't interact with each other and objects in normal space. But sufficiently large objects project a "mass shadow" roughly corresponding to their gravitational field, which can pull a ship in hyper off course, or even force them out of hyper. The same thing happens if a hyperdrive fails mid-flight. It's not possible to track ships in hyper, but any ship equipped with a hyperdrive can instantly detect another entering or exiting normal space within one light year.
While ships can travel faster than light, data can't -- at least not by itself. It is however possible to stabilize a small wormhole and move one of its ends to another star system. Since wormholes can't exist outside normal space-time, this can only be done at relativistic speeds, and takes decades even between nearby stars. Wider information networks operate on a point-to-point basis.
As these wormholes are needle-thin, only laser beams can usefully travel through them.
> Latji was one of those worlds where terraforming hadn't quite caught, so even at the equator the few inhabitants huddled in tunnels, away from the arctic cold and snow. The market reflected that, being mostly deserted and boring despite sitting right next to an interstellar traffic hub.
> They went on through the uniform white landscape, broken only by rock formations and smoke stacks from which black clouds billowed up into the sky. In another century, there could be enough CO2 in the air to trap a little heat for a change... and no ozone layer. Oh well, thought Jake, you can't have them all.
> -- //Arrow in the Sky//
There wouldn't be much point in settling distant planets if they couldn't be made friendly to life. A sealed habitat can be built anywhere, much closer to home and more cheaply. But it will always have drastically limited capacity, and permanent morale issues, to say nothing of the fact that a perfectly closed ecosystem is in fact a chimera.
So why not settle a planet that already has life on it? Because it would most likely be deadly to us... or else we'd be deadly to it. We'd need a fantastic coincidence to find alien life even remotely able to occupy the same ecosystem with anything coming from Earth.
Terraforming was therefore perfected as a necessity, to the point where it can start showing results in as little as a century or two. Of course, the entire process takes much longer, and sometimes it's never completed, either for lack of resources or simply because the planet in question isn't amenable enough. But even a partially habitable planet is better than a radioactive piece of rock.
!!! Life expansion
> He changed the subject. "How old are you really, anyway?"
> "One hundred and twenty."
> His eyebrows went up. "An unusual age to go on travels."
> "Well... After living a normal human lifespan, I figured it was time to do something risky for a change. Got my wish, too."
> "You mean two human lifespans."
> Oh, right.
> "Slip of the tongue," I said quickly.
> Son, he says. I tried not to think that without access to modern medicine I was going to grow old and die like any of them. I had, what, forty years left? Sounds like a lot, until one day you look at the calendar and the decades have all but elapsed.
> -- //Little Magic//
Human beings have always dreamed of defeating death, and space age medicine has come a long way towards achieving this dream. A blend of medication and short-lived nanobots, administered over several months, can revert a person's biological age to as low as 17 years. That can't be done more often than every few years, and indeed only affluent people can afford to do it that often, but it can be repeated indefinitely. Effectively, people in this age only die of accidents or the odd disease that stil lacks a cure. But that means life is still dangerous enough, especially [[in space->Space travel]], leaving people far from immortal. Doubly so as mind upload is inherently unreliable, and few people can adapt to life on a digital substrate.
Naturally, [[regen treatments->Life expansion]] can't replace lost limbs, but cloning technology is there to pick up the slack. When that's not an option, life-like prosthetics are usually available, but there's little reason to prefer them, since they don't exactly grant superpowers.
To communicate, people still use various mobile devices, either hand-held, wrist worn, goggle-shaped, or more exotic options. Some go as far as using medical nanobots to reshape part of their jawbone into a voice activated comm implant. ([[Cyborgs]], of course, don't need one, and [[sorcerers->Sorcerers]] can't have one.)
Computing power is such that many computer enthusiasts can acquire the hardware required to run a mind upload. The latter, of course, are a lot harder to get by, and true artificial intelligences even more so. But ordinary software is powerful enough to let humanoid robots perform low-end jobs such as bartender or receptionist.
> An electric kettle simmered in the background, and the boy donned mittens imitating a cat's paws to take a plate of hot sandwiches out of what looked like a small oven. But then he closed the door, and in a burst of light and sound another plate appeared inside. Then another. Might it have been a dumbwaiter? But no, it was clearly standing on little legs above the countertop. More impossible things.
> -- //Distant Encounters//
First there were 3D printers, able to create any shape on demand from a limited selection of materials. Then chemprinters, that could synthesize any substance out of the base chemical elements. Sooner or later, replicators were developed: machines that can break down nearly any matter into its component atoms and rearrange them at will.
In a single stroke, replicators revolutionized both the manufacturing of goods, and waste disposal. Most household goods could now be made only when needed, with zero manual work, and spaceships no longer had to worry about unexpected needs during long trips. Logistics became less of an issue for armies. Landfills became a thing of the past. Remote colonies could become self-sufficient with a smaller population and less available expertise.
Replicators aren't perfect. For one thing, they only go up to a certain size. Most commonly seen models are only as big as a microwave oven. Moreover, they can't replicate complex nanoscale structures such as DNA molecules. Worst, the replicator core -- the part doing the actual work -- can't be replicated itself. If it's damaged beyond its ability to self-repair, it takes specialized industrial machinery to make a new one. For these reasons, traditional manufacturing is still employed in parallel, and in some cultures people even avoid using replicators if they can help it.
> Missiles aren't normally much good in a space battle. At typical engagement ranges, by the time your railgun shell crosses the distance, the enemy ship has had all the time in the world to disintegrate it, or simply move out of the way. But when you factor in the relative speed between two ships racing towards each other, the equation changes. So when the surviving destroyers unleashed their rain of iron, more than a few projectiles impacted the cuboid's shields, making them flash and flicker, while the massive ship's engines sputtered. The destroyers fired two more salvoes, each less effective as point defense adapted to the new threat. Then they were already screaming past the invader, too fast for any response. By then //Hóng Lóng// and //Piri Reis// were close enough, and the space separating them from the cuboid was filled with a glittering web of c-beams.
> At last, the Collective retaliated.
> A whole armor plate on its flat side lit up with a myriad shiny dots. One couldn't see the laser beams in a vacuum, but there was no mistaking the miniature sun that flourished on the flank of //Piri Reis// before a geyser of vaporized metal erupted from the spot, the cruiser spinning out of control. Then the cuboid pivoted on its long axis, exposing its broad side, and fired from two emplacements at once. As many explosions rocked the Hóng Lóng before fifty thousand tons of warship went dark.
> -- //Collectivity//
As the ancient saying goes, war never changes. That's still true to a degree, but the sheer scale of space makes open warfare exponentially more difficult out there than it would be on a single planet. First you need to find your enemy, and if they really want to hide, well, there are many more rocks out there than you can possibly shoot to pieces. Second, you can't exactly invade and occupy an entire planet. At best, you can threaten a government into surrender after gaining space superiority. Still, there are plenty of smaller objectives to fight over in a traditional manner.
Railguns are still the most powerful weapon you can mount on a spaceship, but missiles are too easy to counter at ranges longer than point-blank -- hundreds or thousands of kilometers at most. At more typical engagement ranges, measured in planetary diameters, you need something like a particle beam. It's not as powerful, but much faster, and can't be stopped by point defense. Finally, at ranges up to one light second lasers can be used. They can't be outrun, or even seen coming, but they're also highly inefficient, so conventional ships can't really take advantage of their unique qualities.
In the way of defense, while nothing can beat good old-fashioned armor, it's still better if missiles never reach it. Hence why point defense is a common feature on spaceships -- if nothing else, as a piece of software connecting the radars to the communication lasers. But that can't do anything about less solid threats, so ships that expect to be in hot zones will often also mount deflector shields: active defenses that push back against anything coming their way with high enough energy. But shields jam leviters, and the other way around, so a ship can only mount one or the other.
Closer to the ground, good old slugthrowers are still preferred for military applications, with coilguns as a popular option. Directed energy weapons are generally of the less lethal variety, such as electrolasers and sonic rifles. Protective gear goes all the way up to power armor, and adaptive camouflage is standard for people as well as vehicles.
!!! Technology F.A.Q.
<dl><dt>Is it possible to travel in time using a [[hyperdrive->Space travel]]?</dt><dd>Yes, in principle, since ships in hyper don't follow the rules of space-time as we know them. In practice it's a lot more complicated and doesn't normally happen. Hyperdrives simply don't work that way.</dd>
<dt>Why can't you mount both [[shields->Weapons]] and [[leviters->Space travel]] on a ship and use them in turn?</dt><dd>Well, if you can modify them to spin up and wind down real fast, and wire everything accordingly, it should be possible. But it would be seen as an exotic design.</dd></dl>
!!! New Antaea
An old, fully-terraformed world with a population of nearly three billion, New Antaea (or New Anthea as the [[Asendowians->Asendow]] spell the name) is home to half a dozen prosperous polities with diverse cultures. They operate a joint System Defense Fleet that can be supplemented with auxiliary cruisers from their vast merchant fleets. There are at least two major factions operating out of New Antaea:
* The Royal Anthropological Society, financed by the Kingdom of
Vroegland, is a scientific organization dedicated to exploration and research. They will pay for information regarding lost colonies, exotic visitors and even media from other parts of the galaxy, but they also have a tendency to get themselves into trouble and require rescue with alarming regularity.
* The Baselmann Conglomerate, a shady corporation that mostly trades in advanced technology, which they sell to the less developed polities within their general region of space. They'll hesitate to take sides in any conflict for fear of endangering present or future business relationships, but they're equally concerned about their public image as people who do the right thing. They also look down on [[transhumans->Transhumans]].
New Antaean deep space patrols will also lend assistance to ships or outposts that require it, but won't endanger themselves or go out of their way (too much) for people from other planets, unless there's a treaty in place. They simply don't have that many hulls and personnel available most of the time.
Not nearly as populated, or quite as friendly (though few visitors are allowed to see for themselves), this planet is home to a federation of totalitarian regimes with centralized economies known as the Democratic Republics of Helia. The sizable if obsolete war fleet they operate puts them in a position to bully their smaller neighbors, but any expansionist tendencies are kept in check by the other two major powers in the region.
Helians trade with the [[Baselmann Conglomerate->New Antaea]], but are paranoid and suspicious toward any military that's not their own, refusing to ally with others even against common threats. They're also known to pursue defectors aggressively, even deep into foreign territories. Most kinds of augments are banned on Helia, except for the ruling elite.
Born as a remote trading outpost, just large enough to cover what little traffic existed among the rarefied human presence in [[this part of the galaxy->The Midway Stars]], Asendow found itself catapulted to prominence with the first ships returning from the far side of the galaxy in centuries. With shipping increasing by orders of magnitude in a few short years, their orbital facilities grew into a cosmopolitan orbital city of impressive size, and terraforming of the planet below started in earnest. More importantly, Asendow has been building up a powerful war fleet, ostensibly to protect commercial traffic in the area, but also to keep at bay any local powers that might covet their newfound fortune.
Military crews from Asendow are relatively inexperienced, but eager to assist anyone in need within the territory they patrol. They aren't likely to take bribes or turn a blind eye to less than legal activities. The polity's leadership has been working hard to broker mutual defense and cooperation treaties with all their neighbors, or at least non-aggression in the case of [[Helia]]. In practice, however, they are yet to be taken seriously, even after several demonstrations of their growing power.
A very old world that was never fully terraformed, Caduca was lost soon after the initial wave of colonists passed through the area, only to be rediscovered by the first crews traveling back from the far side. For political reasons, and also to avoid cultural shock, the planet is off-limits to most visitation. However, there are at least two rival factions operating out of there, using borrowed ships. One, formed of academics and backed by the legitimate governments of the planet, aims to bring their civilization back into the fold slowly and smoothly. The other, made of Caduca's oligarchy and splinter military elements, wants to maintain the status quo but isn't above smuggling advanced weapons dirtside to support their activities... or for that matter killing innocents with them.
Should a ship be forced to perform an emergency landing on Caduca, there are plenty of barren, isolated spots away from the main continent. Both factions will try to make contact soon, and both want to keep "alien" presence on their world a secret. The local polities have technology comparable to Earth in the 1920es, except for a small amount of space age material obtained through various means.
Founded long ago by refugees from an interstellar war, Lundalur remained hidden from the rest of humanity for centuries before being located and helped to rejoin galactic civilization. An inhospitable planet, not really amenable to terraforming, it's nevertheless home to a couple of factions.
* The Keepers, as the original colonists, are wizards by tradition and skilled farmers. In time, they have perfected magical techniques not known anywhere else, ingenious low-tech engineering and unique crops. Nowadays they are interested in catching up with the goings on during their isolation, but lack of a fleet hampers their ability to travel. The Keepers are all baseline human, having fled before augments were commonplace, so they're curious and wary about transhumans.
* The Finders, on the other hand, are former pirates trying to break up with their past, though their old habits resurface sometimes. They're mostly looking for ways to make their world more livable. The Finders are acquainted with modern technology, but they also tend to stay on the low-tech side, building life support systems out of seemingly nothing.
If you happen to visit Lundalur, you will first encounter their ancient, primitive space station. It's out of warranty, but still spaceworthy, and likely the best place in the star system to dock a ship. Orbital space is policed by little armed scouts, that can deal with freighters just fine. Should you visit dirtside, you'll find vast domes covering a mix of pastoral landscape and modern facilities. Large scale or powerful [[spells->Magic]] won't work on the ground, due to an overuse of [[mana->Mana]] in the past.
There's a degree of rivalry between the Keepers and the Finders, but if attacked they'll all defend each other fiercely.
!!! Character creation
You can play yourself in a roleplaying game, but that's not very interesting. Pretending to be a Cool Cyborg for a night is a lot more fun. So that's how any game will begin: with each player making a suitable character. But in order to do that, they have to know what kind of an adventure they'll embark on. And that's the game master's job.
//Now, Game Master sounds pompous, but it simply means the one player who takes it upon themselves to run the game. They're the narrator, a referee in contested situations, and they also play all those minor characters who appear only now and then, as well as any villains (known as NPCs, or non-player characters).//
So, character creation. It's tempting to let players create whatever characters they like, without restrictions, but you're likely to end up with a toon, a dead-serious wuxia and a 1970es superspy... all cast in a steampunk adventure. And maybe you can make that work, too. Most likely, though, they'll have a hard time fitting in. And that means less fun.
A better approach is to tell them outright what kind of adventure you plan to run. Make sure they're on board with the genre, theme and tone. Not everyone likes space opera, or gritty realistic games! Once you've agreed on the game, give them a few matching options to choose from. Say, the captain, the pilot, the gunner, the engineer and the medic. Yep... that's the valiant command crew of a starship, ready to brave the dangers of space. Whether that's a tramp freighter or a brand new cruiser of the Space Patrol is another story; things will go much the same. Ask your players to name and describe their chosen characters. What events from their past shaped them? What are their strong points? How about weaknesses? Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation and Malcolm Reynolds, browncoat, are both The Captain, but they couldn't be more different from each other.
But most of these details can be made up [[along the way->The meat of the game]]. (Just make sure things don't change once established. Except of course by way of character development.)!!! The meat of the game
For now, [[You All Meet In An Inn|http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YouAllMeetInAnInn]]. It's equally tempting to give each PC (player character) a mini-scene in which they introduce themselves at leisure. It can make for a very literary beginning, especially in PBP where you have time to write a bunch. But you risk using up your creative energy before the adventure proper begins. Better to assume the PCs already know each other. Start the game on the bridge of their ship, as they exit hyper mode within a few light seconds of a mysterious planet...
From here on the game works like this:
# The GM sets the scene, describing where the PCs are, what they can see happening, who else is there and so on.
# The players take turns stating what they (as their characters) do or say.
# The GM decides the effects of their actions. Go to point 1 above.
But how do you decide what happens? For starters, use your common sense. Say, if the engineer decides to run system diagnostics, they should learn how the ship is doing right now. (Probably fine, since the adventure just started, unless the GM has other plans.) What else?
The second method is to choose //whatever moves the story forward//. If the captain orders a scan of the planet, the party (that's all of the PCs together) should learn just enough to make an informed decision -- e.g. to enter a closer orbit. Unless of course you want to keep it mysterious, in which case you can rule that their sensors are malfunctioning. But that makes little sense for a shiny cruiser, as opposed to an old tramp freighter. Common sense, remember?
Third, //reward good roleplaying//. It's an RPG you're playing, after all. So what if the ship is facing a jamming field? If the players start devising a way around it, spouting entertaining technobabble while they work together to solve the problem, give them the upper hand. It's only fair. (It helps if everyone agrees on the ship's capabilities -- and their own -- before the game starts. Not everyone is good at making stuff up on the go.)
Where things get tricky is if another ship is firing at them. Should they get hit? How bad is the damage? Has anyone on board been injured? All these decisions could be left to the GM, but that makes the game less of a joint effort. Rather, the players should be mature enough to accept plausible consequences for their actions. And if they aren't... well, then you need another set of rules entirely -- one based on dice and number crunching. But inventing or choosing one is outside the scope of this book. For now, fall back on rule #2: pick outcomes that move the story forward, and/or increase the drama. You probably don't want to kill a character, though. At least not until [[the story's over->Ending the game]].
!!! Ending the game
A tabletop RPG is informally divided into story arcs called adventures. These may stand on their own, or fit into overarching narratives known as campaigns. If you're playing in real time, either in a chatroom or face to face, the game is also divided into sessions, that can be as short as one hour or as long as a whole night. Ideally, an adventure will be short enough to fit into one session (plan ahead if you can). If not, and the players can't meet again, the story will be cut short.
Speaking of which: if on the other hand you're running a play-by-post game, those will be slow-going, as players wait for everyone to take their turn before posting again. Each player will end up posting maybe once or twice a day. On the plus side, they can do more on their turn, since they have time to write detailed moves, unlike in real time. But the game will still stretch for months, and it's seldom the case that players remain interested past the half-a-year mark.
Last but not least, don't forget to give your players rewards at key points during the game. Their characters have grown more powerful. The ship has been upgraded. They can go further out, hit higher notes and have even more fun than before. Because you will play again together, won't you? That's the spirit.
Now go find a group of friends and [[set up an adventure->Sample adventure]].
!!! How to play F.A.Q.
<dt>How many players can be in one game?</dt>
<dd>There is no set limit, but the usual number is 4-6, GM included. Too many players are hard to coordinate, and they'll need a lot of time to take turns. Too few, and there won't be enough energy around the (virtual) table. Balance is everything.</dd>
<dt>In an online game, what happens if a player fails to take their turn for an extended period of time, without any warning?</dt>
<dd>That can be a problem, so set a rule for this case before the game starts. Something like, "if you don't post anything for X time, you lose your turn" is quite enough.</dd>
<dt>Help! My players are asking for transporters! Fighters in space! Plasma weapons! (Insert outrageous non-canon tech here.)</dt>
<dd>Well, so what? Does it break the story? If it actually does, then explain it to them gently. And if it doesn't, who cares? Let them have their fun.</dd>
!!! Opening scenes
Somehow, the party has ended up on Latji: a frozen world where people stick to the equatorial regions to survive at all. There isn't much in the way of population or sights, but it's the last system at this end of the Midway Stars to have a network endpoint. A dubious honor, that nevertheless means a lot of traffic through the little planet's one spaceport, as merchants and patrol ships alike drop by to exchange messages with the core worlds, and resupply while they are at it.
As it happens, an announcement just showed up on the boards that the research ship //Curious//, that was expected back from a survey mission, is late by more than a week, and only the player characters are available to go look for them. The GM can interest them in at least three ways:
* If the PCs are officers in one of the militaries tasked with keeping the local space safe, they may well receive an order to mount a rescue mission.
* Otherwise, maybe one of the PCs has a friend or relative aboard the Curious? That's easy to check as the crew manifest is available to any interested party.
* Last but not least, a reward may well be offered to anyone who can help locate and/or retrieve the missing ship and its crew.
Either way, should they accept, the PCs are given the following information by the spaceport commander:
* //The Curious// is an old, slow 350-ton ship with a crew of 12 and just as many research personnel on board, registered with the Lionese space authority -- a planet at pretty much the other end of the Midway Stars. Curiously enough given the ship's port of call, it's commanded by a certain Captain Areiotis, a baseline human.
* Their recorded flight plan involved visiting a couple of remote outposts operated by [[Asendow]], only known as Station 119 and Station 121, before docking at Latji. That's the best lead the PCs have. Both are roughly the same distance out, some 200 light years, and there's nothing special about either.
If the party's ship can't normally carry two dozen passengers, the Latji port authority will lend them a suitable module they can attach for [[the mission->The search]].
!!! The search
Station 119 is an asteroid base orbiting a red dwarf. There's nothing else of interest in the system -- just more asteroids and unstable planetoids. There are twice as many people there as player characters, in addition to combat robots and drones. Their main activity consists of bouncing autonomous hyper-enabled probes around the neighboring star systems, and reporting any unusual observation by courier. All they can tell the PCs is that the //Curious// passed through on schedule. Asking around reveals that someone overheard the scientists talking about a possible detour, but it was vague, and there are several star systems that match.
Station 121 is similar to its counterpart, if bigger and better appointed, thanks to a somewhat friendlier location (to the degree that a ball of ice orbiting a gas giant qualifies). The //Curious// never made it there at all, but a look at recent data reveals that one of the outpost's deep space probes picked up the missing ship's hyperdrive signature on a recent tour. (If the players don't think to request access, someone from the outpost's personnel will suggest it.) That was at the edge of the probe's detection range, but correlating this data with the shortlist obtained at Station 119 narrows down the search to [[a single star system->Getting in]].
!!! Getting in
The party's ship gets pretty deep into the target star system before entering a planet's mass shadow and having to drop out of hyper. It's a colorful planet, with a complex and unusual ring system, just the sort of thing the missing scientists would fawn over. Sure enough, a scan will promptly reveal another ship orbiting the planet. It won't answer any calls though, and once the party moves in, it will turn out to be a really big ship -- certainly not the //Curious//!
In fact, it doesn't match any ship type in the database, whether human or alien. It's just a cuboid shape, 600 meters long, 100 wide and 50 thick, massing around one million tons (absolutely giant by Midway Stars standards). There are no obvious weapon emplacements, and the armor plating is haphazard. Opposite from the ion engines there are hangar bay doors large enough to fit the //Curious//.
The unidentified ship will continue to ignore hails, and if shot at they will simply raise shields, which are very powerful. Either way, once the party's ship is close enough, the cuboid will emit a docking signal (there are docking ports around the hangar). It's a standard one, if using an old frequency and protocol, but still no explanation. If the players answer the invitation, move on to the next section. Otherwise, after a few moments the cuboid will catch their ship in a tractor beam and start pulling them in.
The tractor beam can be disabled in several ways. Unless the cuboid has raised shields already, the players can simply shoot the emitters, which are close to the docking ports and easy to spot. Or if their ship has a torch drive, they could turn around and rake the cuboid's prow with it. Either way, the cuboid will raise shields now. (If they were already up, shooting at them won't help.) Another option would be attempting a computer attack against the emitters. Security is very tight though, and will block any deeper incursion even on a success.
Either way, if the players fail to free their ship, it will be pulled in and forced to dock. Move to the next section.
As the party is getting away, the cuboid will hail them at last. Should they answer, whoever is at the other end won't try talking to them. Instead, they will launch a computer attack to try and bring in the party's ship. Whoever is at the other end is very skilled, but the PCs are the heroes, so they should always have a chance. (If by any chance the cuboid's shields are still down, shooting at it will stop the cracking attempt.) Should they fail, you know the drill by now.
Lastly, if the players escape even that, as they start drifting away from the cuboid they'll receive an incoming transmission. It's only analog radio this time, so it's safe to pick up. Turns out it's Captain Areiotis, who briefly explains the following:
* the //Curious// was crippled by asteroid impacts, then rescued by the cuboid; only half the people aboard survived;
* the cuboid's crew tried to capture them without explanation, using robots and not showing themselves;
* Areiotis and his surviving people are now barricaded in the hangar's general area and can't get out without help.
Hopefully that convinces the players to try and [[extract the survivors->Finding the survivors]]. The cuboid's crew appears to be distracted with repairs, whether from the players shooting at them or else some other damage, and it should be easy to park a shuttle (or the party's ship if it's small enough) at one of the docking ports -- even if the shields are up, they don't block slow-moving objects. If they decide to run instead, see [[the last section->Getting out]].
!!! Finding the survivors
Once inside the cuboid, the PCs will soon find themselves in the hangar bay. It's 50 meters long, 25 wide, and 12 tall -- fully three decks (the decks are perpendicular to the cuboid's long axis, like in a skyscraper). Most of the space is taken up by the //Curious//, which is all but shorn in half and seemingly dead. It's held in place by cranes and accessible by catwalks. If the players want to search the ship, it turns out to be really dead, and there's nothing of interest aboard. The supply lockers have been emptied, and there's no trace of any weapons. In the damaged section they might run into an insectoid robot that's busy studying and/or dismantling broken components, but it will scurry out of sight too quickly to follow.
Outside of the hangar there's a maze of narrow corridors. A methodical search, coupled with a scan for infrared, minute sounds or some such, will sooner or later reveal the hiding place of Captain Areiotis and the other survivors. Some of them are injured and can't move fast. All of them have been surviving on provisions scavenged from their wrecked ship, but they're running out, so they'll readily follow the PCs back to their ride.
//Captain Areiotis is a stout man with a handlebar mustache and a no-nonsense attitude. He knows the corridors around the hangar and what to expect from the robots. However, he's overdue for a regen treatment, and also very tired, so he won't fight alongside the PCs. Doubly so as he has what's left of his crew and passengers to protect.//
From the moment they get moving, the party will notice they are being followed by small flying drones, and more insectoid robots will show up in places, fixing damage -- possibly caused by the PCs in the previous scene. All these machines are harmless, but should they be attacked (or if the PCs start breaking things), they'll be soon replaced by security bots. These are little tanks, fast and agile, armed with a slow-firing gun that shoots a kind of ball lightning. These projectiles are slow enough to dodge, but they'll burst after a while, delivering a stun attack to anyone within a few meters.
(Incidentally, should the players try to hijack any of these robots remotely, the machines will turn out to have good security, and if defeated will simply shut down. Conversely, if the players launch any micro-drones of their own, they will be subject to a similar attack, and if hijacked will try to get away.)
If the players prove able to destroy security bots, more of them will show up, better armed and smarter. The only way to pacify them is to stop shooting back and run or hide.
Either way, with or without the robots, the PCs and surviving crew of the //Curious// may well succeed in getting back to the ship and escaping. In that case, see [[the last section->Getting out]]. Otherwise, they should all end up getting [[stunned, or else captured->Meeting the hosts]] when they refuse to abandon their friends (and if some of the PCs are willing to, the game master may have to get creative).
!!! Meeting the hosts
The PCs find themselves in some sort of hospital room, divided in half by a transparent wall (it's very solid, in case they try, and their gear, including weapons, has been taken away). On the other side are a handful of teenagers, all with unusual augments. They speak in a brusque, stilted manner, and don't seem to understand why their various attempts to bring the PCs aboard made the wrong impression. They only wanted someone to take the crew of the //Curious// off their hands! (Said crew has been allowed to return to what's left of their ship for the moment.) But now that the PCs are here, maybe they're willing to help with another problem.
Turns out, the crew of the cuboid suffers from some sort of plague, that has already claimed all the adults. (The teenagers also don't understand questions such as how long they've been in space, or why.) Their own medical database wasn't enough, and prior attempts to ask for help went poorly. They want the party to act as ambassadors.
This could go several ways. The players could simply say no, and the hosts will [[let them go->Getting out]]. They don't even know how to plead, though. Areiotis and his people will do it instead. Or the players could decide to [[fly ahead->Getting out]] and set up a proper reception for the cuboid. Alternatively, they could [[stay with the cuboid->Getting out]], but its hyperdrive is slow for lack of maintenance. Actually, if any of the PCs is an engineer, they might be able to help, which will earn them an extra reward at the GMs discretion. Similarly, a medic in the party might be able to improvise a treatment that helps the hosts survive a little longer.!!! Getting out
And so we get to the end of the story.
If the PCs ran without rescuing the survivors of the //Curious//, a few weeks after getting back they'll hear that the cuboid showed up at [[Asendow]] and crippled many of their warships before vanishing into hyper mode, presumably due to taking damage. Soon after, the //Curious// was found in orbit around Asendow, with barely working life support.
If on the other hand the PCs did succeed in their rescue mission but never met the cuboid's crew, they'll receive any reward that was offered initially (at the GM's discretion), plus some pay for whatever data they have on the cuboid. The battle at Asendow will go as above, and the cuboid will never be seen again in the area.
Or maybe they did meet the hosts, but refused to help. In that case, the cuboid will track them down and show up at Latji several weeks later. Since Areiotis will have explained the situation in advance, the meeting will be peaceful, but the PCs get no credit.
Hopefully they did agree to help though, in which case insert happy ending here. Congratulations!