Alternate Changeling: Backstory

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Changeling: the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is out in PDF to the Kickstarter backers (and will probably be available soon to all). It is very good, and everyone should pick it up when they can. I think it’s the strongest 20th anniversary update of the ones I’ve seen so far (which, admittedly, is really just Mage with a light perusal of Vampire and Werewolf).

It’s good enough that it even has me thinking about whether I could actually try to run another Changeling chronicle. And that had me looking back at some of the old documentation I’d put together in college (when I’d made my own run at updating the material when no Revised version was forthcoming). To my surprise, I still approve of a lot of my decisions from fifteen or more years ago, so I thought I’d post some (lightly updated) sections from them.

This week is the summarized backstory I put together for new players. It takes some liberties with events (and references a few background elements that were highly relevant in the Changeling LARP I ran in college), and should prove a decent grounding for my own take on the setting (which is slightly idiosyncratic to the canon).

A History of the Fae

In the beginning were the first dreams. None know whether these were the dreams of the first humans, the dreams of the animals, the dreams of the spirits, or the dreams of Gaia herself. Nevertheless, these dreams spawned the Dreaming: a vast sprawling realm of ephemeral thoughts and transitory impressions.

Thence came the chimera: beings that mirrored the dreams of the sleepers, but which were merely figments, with little in the way of true form, following the script of the dreams that created them. These chimera were just another part, indistinguishable from the landscape of the Dreaming, save that they seemed animate because they represented dreams of moving things. In those days the realm of dreams was not far from the realm of waking, and the Mists were still very thin.

In time, reoccurring dreams crystallized into the first of the fae. Taking the themes of the Dreaming to heart, they represented the deepest thoughts of the dreamers. These first fae were Seelie and Unseelie, creation and destruction, hope and fear. Immediately, or perhaps later, these first fae became the Fomorians and the Tuathans. One represented the power of creation and the other the might of destruction. Yet which was which is far more arguable.

For unknown ages, they took turns governing over the dreams of mortals, being exalted as gods, becoming more and more powerful as their continued existence caused further dreams to come into being that included them.

Yet this could not continue forever.

The War of Trees

It is uncertain which side broke the cycle of Summer and Winter first. It is known that the Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians, but it is not clear whether this was a first strike or in response to former wrongs. Nevertheless, the Tuathans ruled unquestioned for longer than their share of time.

This event is retold in nearly every mythology. The Greek gods overthrew the Titans. The Judeo-Christian God and Angels cast the Fallen out of Heaven. The Norse Aesir defeated the Giants. Egypt’s Osiris defeated his brother Set. Finally, in the terms which have been most used, the Celtic Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians. Each culture places the event in a different era, and it is possible that the Dreaming, shaped and re-shaped by mortal dreams, replayed the event many times. In each instance, the Tuathans were victorious, reigning endlessly, or so they thought.

If the human conception of time can be trusted, iron began to be discovered near the time of the dark ages of Greece, at the end of the age of heroes. That this was an era surrounding the death of the Phoenix only placed more importance on the discovery. Fomorians that had long been re-building their power in the East noticed the importance of the metal ahead of their ancient foes. Humans ascribed great power to the metal that would not bend, and so it gained power from their dreams.

Lesser fae and chimera, those that had turned to the side of the Fomorians and which would later be called the Adhene, began to gather weapons of iron. When they struck the first blows of the Tessarakonta it was with an unbeatable edge. As iron proved its ability to slay the gods, it became even more potent when put towards that use.

The war continued through meaningless instances of time. Eventually, the Tuathans and their children recovered from the initial onslaught and began to bring weapons of their own to bear. Armies of fae and chimera clashed on the plains of the Dreaming and in the mortal world.

Many believe that the sympathies of the fall of Rome heralded the end of the war, for the participants in the fight were unable to truly deviate from the dreams of mortals: the fate of the gods would only be in question should the fate of the Roman Empire be at stake. Regardless, the final battle is remembered to have been on the Kureksarra plain, where the Red King of the Fomorians brought his final weapon, the Triumph Casque of Sorrows, to bear. Against impossible odds, he was defeated, or some say that he realized the folly of his actions and simply surrendered.

The Fomorians accepted the rites of binding, their followers were trapped behind the Silver Path, and the Tuathans also retreated to unknown locations. Some say that the Tuathans retired to Arcadia to heal their grievous wounds. Others say that the Tuathans were all slain during the War of Trees, and only their children survived to defeat the Fomorians. None can now remember the truth, but the war ended all the same.

An Era of Darkness

In the age that would later come to be known as the Dark Ages, the fae were without leaders and without power. The ranks of the fae nobility were growing as more mortals dreamed of what it would like to be a knight or lord, yet governing true fae turned out to be harder than the metaphor of herding cats. Without the power of the Tuathans or the Fomorians, nobles that had once been functionaries and priests now had to fend for themselves.

Adding to the trouble was the lack of enough sustenance to go around. The truly great hopes of mankind had dwindled to a mere desire to get by from day to day, with a distant dream of someday doing enough good deeds to avoid being damned to Hell. Were this not enough, the demonization of the fae by Holy Mother Rome made patronizing dreamers incredibly difficult. Many peasants still remembered the old ways, leaving out the remnants of food, placing small tokens at hidden alters, and other gestures, but gestures is all they were. The church grew in power and belief, and the mostly pagan fae felt the sting of lost worship.

Yet the end was not yet come. Gradually, the fall of Rome and the fallout of the War of Trees faded into memories. A new era of development started, and martial nations with the divine right of kings set forth to establish their dominance. Works of literature such as Beowulf and the Song of Roland found their dreams spreading across the face of Europe. Dreams which had once been comfortable with a king, priests, and a senate began to be re-molded into a feudal line. Urged to mimic the growing dreams of mortals, the fae began to arrange themselves in strict hierarchies beneath those claiming to have the Divine Right of the Tuathans to rule. Great works began to be possible, and the fae reached deep into the tales of mortals.

Yet things were soon to become much more complicated.

The Shattering and the Rebirth

The Black Death shook the very foundations of the Dreaming. Arriving from distant lands, it spread like an invisible spectre over the face of Europe. Some thought that it was another attack by the Fomorians, others thought that it was some weapon in the wars of the prodigals, while still others believed that it could only be a sign of the end of the world and the Second Coming.

Some say that the Shattering that followed was due to lack of dreams caused by the plague, but this is only partly true. Those beset by the plague were often struck with nightmares so potent that their dark Glamour could feed a faerie for days. The problem was not the lack of dreams, so much as the eventual lack of people to do the dreaming. Even the most conservative estimates tend to suspect that at least a third of the population of Europe died within only the briefest of spans. So many lives, ripped away in such a brief interval, began to tear away the building blocks of the Dreaming. Landscapes crumbled, the silver path stretched nearly to breaking, and everywhere the firchlis spun madly trying to cover up each rift left by a missing dream.

The fae did not know what to do in the face of the dilemma. Many thought that the Dreaming was finished while others thought that its heart was the only safe place left. A contingent formed; primarily composed of nobles, it contained many other fae as well. Some of them were abandoning the Earth like a sinking ship, others were hoping that, by reaching the gates of Arcadia, some magicks could be found that would halt the chaos, and some thought that they could find the Tuathans and beg them for help.

Later incarnations would claim that those left behind were cast off by the nobles and forced to their fate, but only in a few cases was this true. Those that stayed behind largely thought that retreat was a fool’s option, and so they remained.

Times grew very hard for the earthbound fae. As the last rath slammed shut behind those who fled so did the Mists rise to overpowering strength. Fae that had long depended on the constant revitalizing Glamour of the Dreaming realized that they would have to look for new sources or fade into nothingness. Some went into their freeholds and cocooned their last supply of Glamour around themselves, slowly becoming the mad lost ones. But this was not a course that many would choose for themselves.

Long had the fae known that they could incarnate themselves by replacing the souls of mortals, becoming a hybrid entity referred to as a changeling by European legends. This process, unfortunately, had the side effect of making the changeling as mortal as her host body. When the mortal body died, the soul disappeared into the Dreaming, possibly discorporating entirely. This did protect the fae soul, but it was a temporary protection at best.

The greatest remaining fae sorcerers began to work on the problem. Eventually, they reached a breakthrough, which they referred to simply as the Changeling Way. Vast sorceries empowered a series of oaths and simple rituals that could be disseminated amongst fae-kind. By undergoing the ritual, a faerie’s soul was reshaped and wounded, creating a rift that could be sealed by the compliment of a mortal soul. When such a faerie incarnated in a mortal, the soul was not replaced but incorporated. On the mortal’s death, the fae soul would be freed by the escaping mortal soul and could immediately seek out another mortal to bond with. By making themselves incomplete, the fae could continue to enjoy immortality.

The era of the Changelings began, as more and more of the remaining fae on earth underwent the Way. Protected from dissolution by their mortal hosts, they could pursue the sustenance of Glamour at their leisure. With the swiftly on-coming Renaissance, this process began to grow ever easier. Changelings across Europe began to steadily muse the growing mortal talents, increasing their efforts to works of true mastery. The Dreaming was still inaccessible to the changelings, but the dreams of mortals were overflowing with new ideas.

The Interregnum

The years passed and the world began to change. Having thrown off the yoke of the Catholic Church and of the other tenets of the status quo during the Renaissance, new ideas emerged almost daily. More and more discoveries were being made about the composition of the universe itself, discoveries that pointed out that it was, in fact, a mystery that could be solved.

The changelings were deeply conflicted about these changes. While the new dreams of progress and hopes of a better future inspired enormous amounts of Glamour, these dreams accompanied discoveries that more and more relegated the mystical and the religious to mere superstition and untruth. Some fae moved with the times, musing scientists and inventors across the world, while others continued to support the old ways, fading into the fringe groups that lived throughout the countryside. Great arguments were had over which was the best way, especially when the Industrial Revolution began to crush the dreams of its workers while spurring the dreams of those that fueled it.

These arguments became especially heated with the growth of a new force called Banality. Banality had existed in some form or another throughout human memory. Yet not until the modern era had it truly become a force of power against the fae. In the eyes of many workers at the new factories, a cold light of utter resignation burned. For them, there was nothing worth hoping for, no future to dream of, and nothing more that could be taken away to fear. Each day was the same, each minute was slavery to a whistle, and each night was a dreamless oblivion of rest for the body but not for the mind.

Amongst others, the case was growing as well. Some were left behind by progress, and became completely apathetic about anything as the world changed and left them behind. Some were jaded by the ease of production, and no longer bothered to dream, for they figured that the scientists would produce everything within a few years. Some became deeply nihilistic, following the new brand of philosophy that claimed that God was dead. Banality grew and the fae discovered a new enemy.

Yet there was hope as well. Gradually, the Mists of the Dreaming decreased to less impassable strengths. Changelings began to again be able to use potent arts of travel and dream to force their way through the Mists and cross fully into the Dreaming. The Mists were still high, the raths were still closed, and the Dreaming was still broken and dangerous, but it seemed to be under repair.

Enterprising changelings set out to clean up the dreamscape and to rescue chimera and chimerical materials from the Near Dreaming. Some never returned, but many came back with grand tales of adventures and beasts and resources long unseen in the waking world.

The changelings began to reorganize their forgotten associations. New ideas for government were taken from dreamers and put into practice. New works were made of chimera to create truly impressive freeholds and accoutrements. Changelings began to feel like a part of a society. Some even went on missions to the Deep Dreaming to look for their vanished relatives. The world was still much limited compared to the ancient days, but it was getting better.

The Resurgence and the Accordance War

The first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century had been of mixed effect on the fae. Two world wars had created a surge of Banality as the dream of heroic warfare was shelled in the trenches and burned in a nuclear blast. The Great Depression had crushed the lives and hopes of many. Yet technology proceeded at great speeds, and every day another creation that had been merely science fiction in the 1800s came into being. By the 1960s there was no doubt that there would soon be a man on the moon, and from there, to the stars.

Changeling sorcerers were certain from auguries and predictions that the actual event of the moon landing in the summer of 1969 would create a surge of Glamour. They planned to harness this event to achieve a long-anticipated goal: the re-opening of the raths to the Dreaming. Each freehold had a doorway that had long been shut to egress from the Dreaming, and with these raths reopened travel to and from the Near Dreaming would become much easier. As one man made his small step that was mankind’s giant leap, the ritual went off, blowing the doors into the Dreaming wide open.

It turned out that sorcerers on the other side of the Mists had received prophecies of this event as well. The first true fae stepped through the raths only a few hours after the moon landing. Large contingents of fae, primarily dreams of Nobility and their chimerical retainers, began emerging in freeholds across the world. These returning fae had lost much of their memory to the Mists, and could not recall whether they had been cast out of Arcadia for crimes or whether they came with an important message.

They did have, however, centuries of unbroken experience to draw upon, Glamour to burn, and a will to power, and thus many of them set about reclaiming freeholds that they had long abandoned. Many changelings were forced into oaths of vassalage that had not been used in centuries, while others were slain outright, and the Night of Iron Knives truly was an atrocity. The war of Accordance had begun.

Later talespinners would paint a very black and white picture of the Accordance War. Years of military conflict during the 70s did, in fact, promote an “us versus them” belief amongst both fae and mortal souls. However, things are never truly homogeneous amongst the chaotic fae. In some places, there were, in fact, epic battles between commoners and nobility with chimerical weapons on empty and appropriate battlescapes.

But in just as many places, there were commoner sit-ins, or changelings that called the mortal police when some noble with a sword was threatening their existence, and even changelings that were completely oblivious to the war. Many of the truly epic battles actually involved commoners and nobles siding together against thallain and nightmare chimera that had come pouring out of the Dreaming through the opened raths. There is even a tale of one “battle” which was decided by two powerful sorcerers playing a very involved game of chess with perfectly ordinary pieces and rules.

The Accordance war came to an end not out of some grand gesture, or the rise of David Ard Rhy, or any of the quoted reasons. The real ending of the war came from simple pragmatism. Most of the returning fae had become changelings to avoid dissolution (though few had undergone the full ritual of the Changeling Way). The vast array of changelings had mortal identities and mortal concerns and they began to treat the war as little more than a weekend event of sport.

Eventually, most commoners conceded that yes, dreams of rulership were probably better suited to being in charge, and the nobles conceded that yes, the commoners had done a pretty good job running the place while they were gone. The fae settled into a comfortable series of oaths and arrangements and only the most radical on either side really thought that the war needed to be continued.

The Age of New Adventures

The eighties and nineties saw an era of adventure come over the fae. Reconnected to the Dreaming and re-organized, their power became much greater than it had been since the ages of legend. Now changelings could contend with the prodigals for influence over the fate of the world. Old alliances were re-formed, old rivalries re-instated, and new friends and enemies were made out of factions in the world.

Banality was still a fear, and some doomsayers talked of a Long Winter, but few were truly worried about their chances of running into an Autumn Person or a Dauntain. High King David ruled with a gentle hand, realizing that his governance was most effective when it was non-intrusive into the very individualistic roles of the commoners. Some worried about prophecies of the future, but most were content to work on improving the present.

Then, in 1998, David disappeared and the Dreaming changed once more.

FATE of the Furious

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It’s not the car. It’s the driver.
-Dominic Toretto

In this fairly simple hack for playing a Fast and the Furious-style game using Fate, the major change to the normal rules is that automobiles are not really independent items, they’re just a template that allows characters to increase the scale of their actions.

The Drive Skill

You cannot purchase the Drive skill directly, only as part of a skill-replacement stunt (see below). The skill loses most of its normal trappings, even when purchased through a stunt. You can use it to:

  • Overcome: Use Drive to defeat someone in a straight-up race. This is often a simple challenge for a quarter mile drag race, but might become an extended challenge for longer and more complex races (with maneuvers as described below).
  • Defend: Use Drive to defend against attacks and maneuvers made against you while you are driving (assuming they come from outside the car).

Drive Stunts

Each skill in the game features a stunt that allows you to use that skill to accomplish the actions under Drive, above. Additionally, this stunt grants you a once-per-session free tag on an aspect of your choice, as long as you’re in an automobile that makes sense for the skill you’re using in order to make use of that skill. For example:

  • Dom uses Provoke to drive. When he’s in a classic intimidating muscle car, he gains a free tag to use for Provoke-related rolls, such as scaring someone out of the chase.
  • Hobbes uses Physique to drive. When he’s in a big, burly truck, he gains a free tag to use for Physique-related rolls, such as bursting through a wall.
  • The Shaw brothers use Athletics to drive. When they’re in agile, lightweight cars, they gain a free tag to use for Athletics-related rolls, such as ramping their cars off of things.
  • Tej uses Crafts to drive. When he’s in a high-tech car, he gains a free tag to use for Crafts-related rolls, such as explaining the features of everyone else’s cars to create an advantage.
  • Roman uses Rapport to drive. When he’s in a flashy car, he gains a free tag to use for Rapport-related rolls, such as boosting his friends’ moods to create an advantage.

The intention for this system is two-fold:

  • By using what is likely to be your top skill for driving, all of the protagonists tend to be fairly close to one another in ability to keep up with an ongoing chase, differentiating their driving styles by what types of maneuvers they make during the chase.
  • By granting a bonus when in the right style of car, it encourages players to pick vehicles that are evocative of their characters’ styles.

Other Skills in a Chase

A car chase is pretty much just treated as a moving battle. The GM can automatically force it into a new zone every exchange (as the chase moves into a different part of the city with different aspects), and the drivers in the lead can use a driving Overcome check to try to move ahead and into a zone of their choice (forcing pursuers to drive to keep up). Any normal skills you could use to maneuver and attack in a fight are used normally here, only described as affecting the other car. Using the general assumption that it’s stopping that’s unusual, the GM might introduce hazards that must be Overcome or Defended against which would be non-issues in a foot combat (such as an obstacle).

Unless specifically doing something that injures the driver (e.g., sniper on the route), all consequences (and Taken Out results) for the chase stay with the car and are lost upon exiting the car. Stress resets normally at the end of the scene (so exiting a car and finding a new one or continuing the fight on foot preserves any accrued stress, but just exiting the scene upon being taken out usually allows you to return the next scene none the worse for wear).

If you simply want to escape pursuers without making each of them Taken Out, this can be resolved as an extremely hard Overcome challenge with a difficulty based on the visibility distance, terrain, and suggested means of escape. Essentially, the difficulty should be hard enough that it will require a meaningful number of maneuvers to set up free tags in order to soundly out-drive the pursuers.

Differentiating Cars

Cars are mostly described as a set of bonus aspects you can use while in the vehicle. A terrible car might be a “Rusty Old Beater” while a high-end sports car might be “New Hotness,” “Twin-Turbo V10 Engine,” and “Computerized Traction Control.” This allows compels and tags to generate the small differences between a skilled racer in a bad car and a good one.

At the very high end, extremely nice cars may come with one or more free tags on their aspects available to the driver. These don’t generally reset: like our later-movie protagonists, you get the really cool sports car, you drive it for a scene or two, then you shed a brief tear when it’s blown up and you move onto the next one without regret.

As a stunt line, characters with a very signature car (like Dom’s main ride) might purchase a high-end car with free tags that actually reset between sessions.

Outcasts, Part 2: The Exodus

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You can do a lot with a supers setting featuring aliens, as described in the last article, but the real inspiration for these series was an episode of Supergirl from this season
(MILD SUPERGIRL SEASON 2 SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT FORWARD)
where Cadmus attempts to round up most of the Earthbound aliens, cram them on an old spaceship, and send them so far away that they’ll have a hard time getting back to Earth. I watched the episode kind of hoping they’d succeed, because watching our heroes try to shepherd a bunch of aliens through the galaxy while they searched for a way home seemed like a good time.

So this post describes a ship-based campaign organization for something in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate: Atlantis, and such. A bunch of disparate aliens have been forcibly placed on a ship that’s designed less as a means of travel and more as a means of getting rid of them, jumped to an unfamiliar side of the galaxy, and left with as much difficulty as possible to get home. There’s a diverse set of competencies in the ship, if you can balance the social issues, traumas, and politics and get people to work together. Rather than just drop people off at the first inhabitable world, you could try to get everyone to stick together, accrue resources by space exploration, slowly repair the ship, and figure out what you actually want to do rather than being unwanted refugees forever.

And the central campaign organization mechanic is making sure that the ship you’re on has a lot of potential, but needs a lot of work and customization to become a home instead of a prison. There are a lot of granular and obvious steps that can be made to improve it, so adventures can often hang on getting the resources to perform a particular upgrade.

This is based on the starship rules from the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion, though I’ve made a few changes in assumptions (primarily in how the engines and life support work; I’m also not 100% sure the math is perfect for the starship rules, but it’s close).

Ship Overview

Initially, the ship is a Huge cargo cruiser that was somehow salvaged and retrofitted by [the Conspiracy]. It has (cramped) quarters and life support for approximately 1,000 individuals. It can maintain basic life support and in-system travel more or less indefinitely, but expends fuel for travel between systems using the FTL/jump drive (and begins the campaign mostly depleted after jaunting across the galaxy). As part of life support, it includes a hydroponics and recycling system that can maintain minimal rations needs for an extended period, but which will be gradually depleted if not supplemented with additional resources (and which are not the most attractive foodstuffs). Rightly afraid of the ship being controlled by alien computers that the outcasts might understand better than [the Conspiracy]’s programmers, as much as possible of its original systems were ripped out and replaced with kitbashed Earth computers and control systems that are heavily locked down and provide the minimum inputs necessary to pilot the ship. The ship has no weapons, and a very small number of short-range landing shuttles

Quarters

  • Cramped quarters for 1,000 individuals (~60 of them required to act as crew; the rest are part of a passenger superstructure designed for maximum residence and lacking the typical passenger structure amenities)
  • Survivalist furnishings (cots, hammocks, surplus sleeping bags and pillows, suitcases)

Current furnishings and arrangements provide -# morale. Allocating more space and providing better furnishings can provide a morale bonus to individuals with enhanced accommodations.

Unallocated Space

  • Much of the ship’s non-quarter space is empty cargo area and completely unfurnished smaller bays
  • [The Conspiracy] clearly intended to build these out to fit even more exiles, but did not finish the construction (and balked at crowding in refugees; these areas are not currently fitted to be safe during FTL)

Vital capabilities could be installed as rooms in these spaces, or it could be easily fitted to haul cargo. It is a mild difficulty to fit it for safe quarter space, either increasing the maximum crew capacity or increasing morale by giving residents more personal space. The ship can take ~40 mods worth of improvements, per the Science Fiction Companion.

Life Support

  • Basic air and water recycling; most areas of the ship smell bad, and the water retains faint bad tastes
  • The system is currently at 90% efficiency, and has a 100 day reserve for 1000 residents (essentially 1 day of reserve are lost for every 10 days); damage to the ship could threaten these reserves
  • Basic artificial gravity provides a relatively stable 0.8g

Current life support provides a -# morale. Improving the filtering systems can provide a general morale bonus. Taking on more reserve water and air can provide insurance against leakage and catastrophe. Storing more than 100 days of reserve would require additional tanks to be installed.

Nourishment

  • The ship has an extremely basic galley (capable of heating food and boiling water) suitable to serve the residents with some difficulty
  • The ship’s recycling and hydroponics systems generate 500 hominid-days of basic organic foodstuffs per day (mostly reclaimed nutrients processed by bacteria and algae into cardboard-tasting food pellets); with current number of residents, it can maintain indefinitely on half rations
  • The galley is stocked with 100,000 hominid-days of cheap canned goods and MREs; with current number of residents, supplemented by the recycling, this is enough for 200 total days on full rations

Current food options provide a -# morale. Improving the galley’s cooking capabilities (including by identifying skilled chefs), upgrading the recycling/hydroponics systems to provide tastier output, and taking on better nourishment can improve morale. Taking on more nourishment may be required to extend the mission without going on reduced rations.

Comforts

  • The ship has no alcohol, drugs, snacks, or other ingested comforts beyond what was smuggled in luggage
  • The ship has no comfortable furnishings
  • The ship has no entertainment options beyond what was smuggled in luggage

Current comfort options provide a -# morale. Improving these options can raise morale.

In-System Engines

  • The ship currently has basic fusion propulsion that is largely self-sustaining (with solar power when deep inside a solar system and magnetic ramscoop assist when traveling)
  • The ship has essentially no maneuverability for a crisis; depending on current relative velocity, it needs seconds or even minutes to evade dangers
  • The ship’s acceleration is limited to 1g (both due to output and the life support’s artificial gravity compensation)

Current engines could be improved to make the ship much better at reacting to danger quickly. The engines and artificial gravity would have to be improved to increase travel speed within a system (going any faster without improving the artificial gravity would result in an increasing sensation of the floor being slanted in the direction of travel).

You can use this website to calculate non-FTL travel times, or the formula that Total Time in Days = 4 × √(midpoint distance in AU/acceleration in gs).

FTL/Jump Engines

  • The ship currently has FTL engines capable of extremely long-range jumps
  • The engines must be given extremely complicated and specific data to plot a jump
  • The engines require a massive amount of high-energy exotic fuel (and start with enough for # light years of additional jumps)

Improving the navigation computer systems could make FTL travel somewhat more efficient and much less finicky. Improving the engine guts could improve fuel efficiency. The engines could be switched to a hybrid or full-electric system by replacing the fuel tanks with batteries and capacitors; this would drastically lower the jump capabilities at one time, and require the system to slowly recharge off of the in-system engines, but would lower the fuel costs.

Controls

  • The ship currently has legacy consoles for in-system maneuvering, with much of their digital assistance stripped
  • The ship’s FTL engines are currently plotted by kitbashed Earth computer systems

Improving the consoles and reattaching digital assistance systems would improve piloting checks and require fewer units of manpower to be on the bridge to drive the ship. Improving the computer systems would decrease time to plot an FTL jump and jump targeting precision.

Computers

  • The ship currently has non-VI Earth computers patched into most control systems
  • Most systems have their native controllers at the various interface points (Earth systems handle coordination, but the technicians left any systems in place that they were confident would not retain data on Earth’s location)
  • There are no entertainment systems
  • All computer interfaces are *nix command line or extremely rough GUI; no voice control
  • There are limited voice alerts and other alarms

Improving the computers would make it far easier to command ship systems and get useful feedback and warnings. Installing a competent virtual intelligence (VI) would reduce crew requirements for many tasks. Increased terminals and entertainment software would raise morale.

Sensors

  • The ship has extremely short-range radar, cameras, and radio transmission
  • Slow software rendering data from passive radio telescopes can build a basic map of the nearby system over time (but cannot resolve small or fast-moving threats until they are very close)

Improving the ship’s sensor suite (including integrated computers) would make it much faster to get an accurate map of the current system and identify threats and opportunities at a much greater range. It could also improve range and quality of communications.

Armaments

  • The ship currently has no weaponry
  • Unallocated space could be used to mount weapons

Adding weapons would make it possible to fight in the ship, or at least repel attackers. Computer systems supporting the weapons would be necessary as well.

Defenses

  • The ship has a large hull standard to a cargo ship of its size
  • It has extremely basic magnetic shielding (mostly designed to deflect micrometeorites and other space detritus)

Adding additional physical or energy defenses would provide enhanced protection from attackers and other dangers.

Exploration

  • The ship has three basic six-hominid shuttles that are able to reach a planet from low orbit; they have no armaments or defenses, and are not particularly fast to re-achieve orbit, especially under load, but they do recharge off of the ship’s engines
  • There is an extremely minimal repair bay with only the most basic of emergency tools and materials to handle a hull breach or other catastrophe
  • There are only a dozen EVA suits which are aging NASA castoffs

The ship has space for additional and/or better shuttles or other vehicles. Improving the repair bay would make the ship much safer and quicker to respond to damage. More and better EVA suits would be extremely helpful in a vacuum.

Savage Worlds Stat Block

Huge Starship: Size 16, Acc/TS 35/400, Climb 0, Toughness 44 (10), Crew 60, Cost $88M, Remaining Mods 38

Notes: Crew Reduction x4, FTL Drive, Superstructure (Passenger)

Weapons: None

Outcasts, Part 1: Alien Superheroes

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I’m a big fan of the Supergirl TV show, and I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that its particular licensing limitation* implies a world where most of the superpowers are possessed by alien refugees. What follows is a setting take on how to justify this, followed by some design musings. The next part adds on an additional option for this type of campaign.

* Most of the non-alien DC characters were already in use on other shows or otherwise not available to the TV shows.

In God’s Image

A strange truism of sapient life throughout the known universe is that it seems bound to very similar forms. Through countless channels on countless worlds, evolution eventually settles on a bipedal hominid form for its pinnacle. Many look nearly identical to humans with minor cosmetic variations, the vast majority of the remainder are superficially different but structurally the same, and only the smallest fraction are truly alien in form. Nearly all of them drink water, breathe oxygen, are comfortable in a single G of gravity, and can derive nourishment from the same kind of foods.

Many religions throughout inhabited space seek to explain this truism, and the cutting edge of xenoscience can only postulate some constants of physics and chemistry that cause life to converge in this way.

Perhaps stranger, mental acuity is similarly constrained. Few sapients are much smarter than humanity, and nearly all have understandable emotions and drives. This is also true of their machine creations. There is no such thing as a true general artificial intelligence that any sapient will admit, though many races have come up with quite sophisticated virtual intelligences that lack their own motives and creativity.

All these factors mean that cosmic society plateaus technologically and culturally. The development void between 21st century humans and any given alien species is much smaller than many scientists would expect, even for civilizations much older than those on Earth. Bright humans exposed to starfaring technology can often figure out how to work it, and even partially reverse engineer it: it turns out that very little technology is sufficiently advanced to become magic. While this technological wall is no doubt depressing to futurists, it means that humanity is poised to enter intergalactic society at far less of a deficit than might otherwise be expected.

Of course, scientific competence and cosmopolitan leanings are very different things. Exposure to the vast profusion of alien culture just waiting to embrace earthling neighbors may set off many of the worst isolationist tendencies of humanity…

Design

This uses Savage Worlds as a basis, but you could easily use your supers engine of choice (though the follow up post explains in more detail why I went with Savage Worlds).

  • Use the science fiction companion to build basic alien race traits (with humans keeping the free edge as their racial advantage).
  • Each race also gets a handful of power permissions from the super powers companion, and are built as supers (i.e., they don’t have to take the arcane background edge).
  • Characters receive a variable number of points to purchase these powers.

All characters, even the weakest NPCs, should typically get around 10 points for buying powers, to allow certain powers to be standard for the alien race (e.g., you can always assume Kryptonians can fly a little, and are stronger and tougher than humans, but they might not all be as powerful as Supergirl). Wild Cards and other important characters should receive more, at the power band you want for your game. They’re, for whatever reason, the exemplars of their race’s powers.

In general, unless you’re using an established setting, players can essentially make superheroes as they would for any other supers game, then reverse-justify their power picks to a race of which they’re an exemplar.

Example Races

Kryptonian:

  • Kryptonians have the Gimmick hindrance (require regular access to sunlight from a yellow sun) and the Power Negation hindrance (Kryptonite). They gain six additional Power Points to buy super powers beyond what is standard for the campaign.
  • Kryptonians are incredibly strong, and can buy Super Attribute (Strength).
  • Kryptonians are incredibly hard to hurt, and can buy Toughness.
  • Kryptonians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Kryptonians can fly into space and survive for short periods, so may purchase the Resistance package required to survive in space and Doesn’t Breathe (with the minor Limitation of a finite duration).
  • Kryptonians can use heat vision and cold breath as expressions of Attack, Ranged.
  • Kryptonians have enhanced vision and hearing, and can buy Heightened Senses.

Green Martian:

  • Martians have the Weakness (Major) hindrance (Fire) and the Racial Enemy (White Martian) racial drawback. They gain +2 ranks of Strength and +1 Toughness.
  • Martians are psychic, and can buy Mind Reading and Telepathy.
  • Martians are shapeshifters, and can buy Chameleon.
  • Martians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Martians can alter their densities to pass through solid matter, and can buy Intangibility.

Human:

  • Humans gain a bonus Edge (per the normal Savage Worlds rules).
  • Humans are stubborn, and can buy Resistance (Mental). With the lack of psychics on the planet, few even realize they are so gifted. As a whole, Earth goes mostly unknown on the galactic stage because long-range psychic probes for sapience are so globally resisted.
  • Humans breed faster than most other races, and form strong groups, such that many humans functionally have the Minions power. Aliens are often overwhelmed by human numbers and tendency to coordinate.
  • Humans are sociable, resistant to fear, and quick to overcome hardship and shock. They can buy Super Attribute (Spirit).
  • Humans tend to have an outsized share of prodigies, and can buy Super Skill (any).

Design Note: Humans needed to be designed to account for their stats being the Savage Worlds baseline, so power choices were made around things that the majority of humans could plausibly have to some extent without it being strange/noticeable.

Beyond the Wall: The Monk

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In the course of making what was initially one of several simple options for hirelings, I realized it would be very easy to hack in a workable monk variant for Beyond the Wall. The overview and playbook are below.

The Monk (Warrior/Mage Variant)

Basics

Monks follow all progression for Fighters (hit dice, attack, saves, XP, skills, and abilities) except as noted below:

  • Unarmed Combat must be your first level trait choice.
  • You must spend your initial Weapon Specialization on Unarmed Combat.
  • You may use your Dexterity bonus to determine attack and damage for Unarmed Combat (if your Dexterity is better than your Strength).
  • You cannot wear any armor.
  • You can learn special variants of rituals (see below). You automatically learn one ritual of your level or less upon obtaining each new level (including one first level ritual at character creation).

Monk Rituals

Monk ritual variants are almost always self-only (even if the normal version of the ritual could affect someone else or the whole group). They do not have material costs, but otherwise follow the normal casting time requirements (performed in meditation, martial arts exercise practice, or other genre-appropriate ritual action). They always use Wisdom as their casting ability.

Suggested rituals include:

  1. Bind Familiar, Circle of Protection, Goodberry, Mage Armor, Naming Ceremony, Staff of Might, Wanderer’s Fortune
  2. Cleansing Ritual, Endure the Elements, Magic Stones, Traveler’s Blessing
  3. Bear’s Endurance, Friends, Nepenthean Drink, Skin of the Treant, Strengthen the Bond
  4. Augury, Heart of the Ox, Wizard’s War
  5. Arcane Sight, Dispel Magic, Greater Bond, Ritual of Healing
  6. Full Restoration, Shape of Stone
  7. Determine True Name, Master’s Bond, Word of Truth

The Martial Artist Playbook

While the other warriors of your village practice with arms and armor, counting on steel to save them from the dangers of the world, you rely only upon your own body. While your neighbors often don’t understand your decision to turn yourself into a weapon through discipline, practice, and meditation, they cannot help but admit the results.

You are agile and introspective. Your Dexterity and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

What was your childhood like?

(Use the standard villager playbook charts for What did your parents do in the village?, How did you distinguish yourself as a child?, and Who else in the village befriended you while you were growing up?)

Somehow, you learned of the possibility to perfect your fighting ability without arms and armor, and began to practice. You become a level 1 Warrior/Mage. You gain the class abilities Weapon Specialization, Knacks, and Monk Rituals, and the skill Athletics. You gain the trait Unarmed Combat (this is your first level trait selection) and your initial Weapon Specialization is in Unarmed Combat. The tables below will further define your class abilities.

How did you begin your journey?

How did you learn martial arts?

  1. A fae trickster calling himself the “Monkey King” chose you as a special subject for torment. After months, you realized these trials were teachings. +3 Str, Monk Ritual: Staff of Might
  2. A strange traveler from far away wandered into your village one day and chose you as an apprentice after seeing your promise. +3 Dex, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  3. You were trapped in a deadfall and were not found for several days. A hallucinatory vision taught you secrets of how to survive and fight. +3 Con, Monk Ritual: Goodberry
  4. You uncovered an old book of martial techniques unlike any fighting manual you’d seen before, and diligently practiced its forms. +3 Int, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  5. You left home and wandered the world for several years with only the clothes on your back, learning to fight and survive without armaments. +3 Wis, Monk Ritual: Wanderer’s Fortune
  6. You felt at home in the wilderness around town, befriended a strangely intelligent beast, and learned to fight as it did. +3 Cha, Monk Ritual: Bind Familiar

How did you integrate your new skills into village life?

  1. You spar with the other young warriors, and they can rarely lay a blow upon you. +2 Dex, Knack: Defensive Fighter
  2. You man the town’s defensive perimeter, because you can respond to approaching danger faster than anyone else. +2 Dex, Knack: Fleet
  3. You tend to find yourself getting into brawls frequently, as the other youths of the town try to test themselves against you. +2 Str, Knack: Great Strike
  4. As part of your discipline, you take on the most grueling physical tasks without complaint. +2 Con, Knack: Resilience
  5. Your awareness of the world is uncanny, and you can almost shoot a bow blindfolded, making you an excellent archer. +2 Wis, Knack: Weapon Specialist (Longbow)
  6. You spend much of your time in introspection and meditation, knowing that you must only act when necessary, but then with great certainty. +2 Wis, Knack: Fleet

What inspired you to finally end your trials and meditations and go forth into the world?

  1. You have exceeded the challenges the village has to offer, and need to test yourself against harder problems to continue improving. The friend to your right has long been your friendly sporting rival and sparring partner, and gains +1 Str. +2 Str, Skill: Athletics
  2. You travel light and thus can easily move quietly and unseen, so the village has great need of you as a scout. The friend to your right helped you learn to travel without being detected, pointing out when you could be seen, and gains +1 Dex. +2 Dex, Skill: Stealth
  3. Your exercise and contemplation frequently takes you far into the wilderness around town, and you’ve begun to see things that could be threats if not dealt with. The friend to your right has been with you on some of these camping trips, and gains +1 Con. +2 Con, Skill: Survival
  4. You learned that, throughout the ages, there have been others that also practiced martial arts, and that you might find ways to improve yourself by visiting ancient and far-flung sites. The friend to your right found the first history book that set you on your path, and gains +1 Int. +2 Int, Skill: Ancient History
  5. Assassins with strange features tried to slip into town undetected, with deadly intentions for your village elders, and you saw them and rallied the town before they could strike. The friend to your right found a symbol they left behind that hints at the threat to the village, and gains +1 Wis. +2 Wis, Skill: Alertness
  6. The town’s leadership has long been intrigued by your ability to fight when arms and armor are not permitted, and have been encouraging you to do whatever you need to become a more effective envoy or bodyguard to diplomats. The friend to your right helped you practice your social graces, and gains +1 Cha. +2 Cha, Skill: Etiquette

Long ago, you found an item with hidden mysteries, that has long been your focus for meditation and a symbol of your quest. What is this token?

  1. A staff taken from the heart of a a lightning-struck tree, covered in subtle natural patterns. +2 Str, a fine quarterstaff
  2. A bow covered in intricate, interlocking carvings, hinting at the unity of the cosmos. +2 Dex, a fine longbow
  3. A platinum-and-gold ring, delicately knotted in strange runes in a language no one can read. +2 Dex, an ornate ring
  4. A belt of several strands of colorful leather, braided through silver and iron charms. +2 Con, a braided charm belt
  5. A strand of large beads of a variety of materials and colors. +2 Wis, a necklace of beads
  6. A tunic of a fine, silken weave, patterned with designs too complex for local weavers, obviously made in a far-away land. +2 Wis, a fine woven shirt

Pathways Fantasy World Creation

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This is kind of the opposite of my previous Pathways World Creation idea: rather than making characters first and the world to suit, this is an experiment in doing pathways creation without player characters involved. See the linked Smallville tag on this post for more information about doing Pathways creation, if you haven’t played Smallville or previously read my other posts on this topic.

As usual, start with a big blank sheet of paper for drawing nodes and connecting lines. Unlike usual, do not add the player characters to the map initially (you’re developing a world for the players to eventually create characters to fit). The goal of this is ultimately to create a world-first setting, where the player characters aren’t necessarily attached to anything from the start, but to still give the players buy-in to all the primary elements.

For every step in this process, I’d advise that the GM should be treated as a player (i.e., getting to add and connect things at least as often as the players do). Traditionally, the GM does not participate in the Pathways process, but that process is often in a framework of a greater setting that the GM has already bought into. Since this is generating so much about the world, giving the GM the ability to poke at the process to highlight ideas he or she likes makes it easier to roll with the game indefinitely.

Step 0: Theme and Conflict

This step is special: it may be done normally, with the players going around the table, or may be entirely pre-seeded by the GM to get some initial core input into the important elements of the world (i.e., this is set up so, if the GM already has some seed ideas for the campaign, it’s possible to just put them as the core for the whole framework).

  • Add a short theme (triangle) to the map. This should ideally be a single word, and certainly not more than a very short sentence: it will gain more definition as other elements link to it.
  • Add an antagonist (hexagon) or macguffin (pentagon) to the map. This should be a short but evocative name; the actual details of it will be generated from linking to other elements.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.

Step 1: Peoples and Places

  • Add a location (box) to the map. This should be a whole country or region. As usual, give it an evocative, short name, and allow details to come out from connections.
  • Add a race (double-ringed circle) to the map. The GM may veto any races from the rules that he or she doesn’t want to deal with, but this is otherwise a way to say that that race is important to the setting in some way. If your game system doesn’t have mechanical races, give a short, evocative name for a culture instead.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to a location or race and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from a location or race to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.
  • Draw an arrow from a race to a location and give it one of three types of label: “homeland” (where the race is from), “Stronghold” (the race is politically dominant in that location), or a negative label (such as the race being banned, enslaved, or otherwise mistreated in that location). These can double or even triple-up if it makes sense logically (e.g., the elves are politically dominant in their own homeland, but are also widely feared by all other races in that land).

Step 2: Politics

  • Add an NPC (circle) to the map. This should be someone very politically important to the setting, but not directly villainous (that would be an antagonist). As usual, give the NPC a short evocative name and wait for details to fall out of connections.
  • Add an organization (star or double-ringed pentagon) to the map. This will become a politically important secret society, knightly order, wizard cabal, thieves’ guild, etc. As usual, a short, evocative name is important.
  • Draw an arrow from an NPC to an antagonist or macguffin and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to an organization and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from an NPC or organization to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.

Step 3: Further Linkages

  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element that is not currently connected to a theme to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb. (If all elements are tied to a theme, tie one to a second theme.)
  • Draw an arrow from whichever (non-theme) element currently has the least connections to any other element, and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element to any other element and define the relationship.

Step 4: Secondary Elements

  • Add your choice of another one of the following: antagonist, macguffin, location, race, NPC, or organization.
  • Draw an arrow from any element with no connections to any other element (except themes), and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any element (that is not currently connected to a theme) to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.
  • Draw an arrow from whichever (non-theme) element currently has the least connections to any other element, and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element to any other element and define the relationship.

If your map is still sparse for your group’s tastes, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’re satisfied with the map.

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 3)

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Apparently, I had a lot more to say on this topic than I thought, and it’s taken me until the third post to get to the item list that was the core of why I started writing this series in the first place. So without further ado…

Types of Items for Sale

Trinkets

Not every vendor in the market has epic items that will change your life forever. Probably the majority of them are a lot like their mortal counterparts: selling the everyday things that visitors to the market might need. Depending on the weirdness of the average customer, this could vary from goods that wouldn’t be out of place at any mortal market to items that have similar functions but alien appearances. Mostly, for mortal visitors, this winds up basically being tchotchkes: the kind of slightly unusual token you bring back to show your neighbors that you’ve seen wonders they couldn’t even imagine.

They might even accept your own coin or unusual goods for trade, letting you dip your toe in the market without bartering anything you aren’t prepared to part with.

Snacks and Merriment

It wouldn’t be a fair without delicious food, drink, and revelry to part you from your coin. As mentioned previously, they’re probably not glamoured fruits that will make you sick to death or tricks that keep you from ever leaving faerieland. At least the reputable vendors don’t sell that kind of thing. But the foods are delicious, empty calories, often spun into daring shapes that can’t be accomplished in human ovens with mortal gravity, and the entertainments are… extremely memorable.

Many of them are even touched with magic and might give you a small bonus to something relevant for an hour or two.

Exotic Goods

Beside the trinket vendors are the merchants with the things that are truly beyond what you can get in the mortal world. They sell bolts of cloth or fully-tailored clothing better than anything you’ve ever felt, metals that mortal metallurgists wouldn’t believe could exist, gems made of captured light, and chemicals that would make a mortal alchemist or baker weep at the possibilities.

Many of these things don’t last long outside of the market, falling apart under coarse mortal hands or turning into leaves with the dawn. If you can keep them up, the maintenance requires care and/or magic almost (almost) beyond what it’s worth. But they still might be useful for as long as they last, particularly if you’ve been invited to an event and aren’t properly attired.

Some of them might last, of course, if it suits the whimsy of the GM for them to persist. In particular, raw materials might survive into the mortal world… what better way to vex mortal crafters that try and fail to work them?

Secrets

If you need to know a particularly useful and hidden bit of lore, the market is the place to ask around. As noted previously, information at the market changes hands like physical goods: you’re paying not just to know something, but to be the holder of an exclusive (or, at least, extremely limited) piece of data. You can get weaknesses of your enemies, quest hooks, lost histories, and even spells from the right vendor for the right price.

Of course, the fact that you were asking around for these things is strangely free of the limited nature of secrets… the fae might gossip about your desires to almost anyone. That might particularly include someone who desperately wanted to know a secret that you now exclusively own.

Enchantment Shifting

To mortals, “permanent” magic is static, but, to many of the fae, it’s much more fluid. Have a curse you need taken off of you? Have a magic weapon that’s not your specialized type? There may be someone that can help you move that enchantment to a home more to your liking.

Magic as Commodity

The standard consumables are just the start for the types of magic you can buy at the market. Virtually any spell could find a home in a crafted good: to the fae, it’s not enchantment, just their own particular brand of handiwork. As noted previously, these should often be much easier to get than the rules expect, because of the spoilage factor.

Memories and Talents

Of course, the core currency of the market can also be an end in itself. Need to boost an ability or skill? Someone else may have paid in the right qualities that a merchant could distill the draught for you.

These bonuses should range from the slight to the overwhelming, and from the momentary to the permanent. Maybe you only need the memories of a genius or the muscles of a troll for a moment to solve a problem, or maybe you’d like a slighter bonus for longer. The pricing for this should probably start similar to a potion that boosts an ability for a short period, adjusted for magnitude and duration, and discounted for drawbacks.

In addition to the normal drawback of spoilage, the hidden drawback of this kind of thing is the danger of taking in someone else’s identity.

Mental ability scores and skills tend to come from a constellation of memories and emotions, not all of them healthy. Is it worth it to be smart, if you suddenly have a genius’ pedantry and arrogance? Is it worth it to be incredibly charismatic and artistic, if you are suddenly wracked with depression engendered by a long-lost muse?

Physical ability scores and skills can be even more troubling, drifting into the realm of body horror. The muscles of a troll may come with many of the troll’s other physical characteristics. And sometimes the stories of being turned into frogs are just an offended merchant selling a particular distillation of a potion of agility…

Teaching a Mortal to Fish

Perhaps the most efficient purchase you can make, if you’re mystically inclined, are the secrets used to build containers and fill them with currency. With sufficient dedication, you can spend the weeks until the next fair gathering dross from your own home town out of dreams, emotions, and secrets no one will even miss, and save up for something at no cost to your own identity. For the patient and industrious, it’s the best investment you could make.

Of course, some people say that many fae were once mortal practitioners with a greed for faerie things and the right start down the slippery slope…

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