A Song of Fading Suns

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With only very minimal changes to the setting assumptions of Fading Suns, one could run a game of it using the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. While such a campaign might not have quite the same breadth of available adventures as the more toolkit-style Victory Points system, it would gain the genre emulation tools inherent in the ASoIaF RPG engine: specifically, the intrigue and mass combat systems. Since one could set A Game of Thrones in the Fading Suns setting without changing much beyond a few house names and adding in a few sci-fi features, it seems like a very good match.

Setting Changes

  • Rather than being monolithic families, the five great houses of the Known Worlds merely serve as the figureheads for a collection of banner houses closely tied to them by oaths and blood. A “Hawkwood Knight” may actually be from a smaller house that rules a large section of one of the Hawkwood worlds in the name of his lords.
  • Energy shields work more like the ones in Dune: they dampen inertia and energy, and work much better against bullets and other attacks that deal damage by being very energetic. They are also one of the Second Republic technologies that are readily replicable in the new dark ages. Consequently, melee weapons are used far more heavily that seems logical in a setting with high tech firearms: a couple pounds of steel swung as fast as a human can swing it will rarely trigger a shield, while a gun will almost always set it off.
  • Spaceships are rare and hard to replace, fortresses are often dug deep and protected by massive energy shields, and the Church has declared orbital bombardment a sin (as it tends to wipe out the countryside and risk upsetting terraforming while leaving the actual fortresses intact). Wars are, thus, often fought by infantry and ground vehicles.

Rules Changes to ASoIaF RPG

Skills

The Animal Handling skill is changed to the Driving skill. It is used for most of the same kind of thing (particularly for “cavalry” actions), but is focused more on how to operate vehicles than on befriending horses. Players need a special Quality to operate spacecraft.

Knowledge is used for understanding technology, but players need a special Quality to operate Think Machines or work with really high tech items (virtually anything more complex than 1950s tech).

Status means different things for nobles, churchmen, and guilders:

Status Nobility Church Guild
1 Servant Petitioner Freeman
2 Retainer Novitiate Apprentice
3 Squire Canon Associate
4 Knight Deacon Chief
5 Baron Priest Fellow
6 Earl/Marquis Bishop Captain
7 Count Archbishop Consul
8 Duke Metropolitan Dean
9 Prince Patriarch
10 Emperor

Noble Skills: Agility, Deception, Fighting, Persuasion, Status, Warfare

Church Skills: Awareness, Healing, Language, Knowledge, Persuasion, Will

Guild Skills: Cunning, Driving, Endurance, Knowledge, Marksmanship, Thievery

Non-Entered Skills: Agility, Athletics, Endurance, Stealth, Survival, Thievery

(PCs start with their group’s skills at 3 and all other skills at 2. Raising skills from 2 to 3 costs 30 points, instead of 10, and all other costs are increased appropriately.)

Qualities

No Fate Qualities from the standard list are allowed except: Cadre, Cohort, Famous, Head of House, Heir, Landed, Sponsor, Ward, and Wealthy.

No Heritage Qualities from the standard list are allowed (though a GM might want to invent some for different planets).

The Braavosi Fighter and Water Dancer Martial Qualities are renamed Duelist and Fencer, but their effects are the same.

The following new Fate Qualities are available to Guild members:

  • Spacer: You can pilot a spaceship (use Driving).
  • Technologist: You can understand how to assemble and repair high tech devices (use Knowledge).
  • Hacker: You can operate a Think Machine (use Knowledge). Requires Technologist.
  • Banker: You can manage money without being bred to it (use Cunning instead of Status for Stewardship checks).

Theurgy, Psi, Changed, and Cybernetics are purchased as new Fate qualities. Use the Pious and Third Eye Qualities as a basis.

House Creation

Create stats for different planets to replace the Westeros regional statistics. Land 100 is roughly the size of a planet, so most PC houses will control somewhere between a country and a continent in space.

The rough area controlled is found by squaring the Lands number and multiplying by 5000 square miles (Lands^2 x 5000 sq miles).

The rough population of these lands is found by cubing the Population number and multiplying by 1000 citizens (Population^3 x 1000 citizens). At population 100, the PCs are responsible for a billion souls.

The house’s first founding is rolled normally and provides the same number of historical events, but is compared to the following list:

  1. Ancient (The Diaspora, c. 2500)
  2. Very Old (The Ukar War, c. 2855)
  3. Old (The end of the Second Republic, c. 4000)
  4. Established (The death of Emperor Vladimir, c. 4550)
  5. Recent (The beginning of the Emperor War, c. 4956)
  6. New (The ascension of Emperor Alexius, c. 4993)

Equipment

When awarded in character creation or as treasure, 1 Gold Dragon in ASoIaF is worth roughly 100 Firebirds in Fading Suns.

Weapons

Use the ASoIaF stats for melee weapons and bows.

Slug Guns use the following table. All Revolvers and Shotguns have the Reload (Greater) quality. All other slug guns have the Reload (Lesser) quality. Each gun has a number of shots (obviously) before a reload is required. Improved ammo can be purchased for most slug guns to gain the Piercing quality.

Gun Specialty Training Damage Qualities
Light Pistol Pistol Agi + 1 Close, Fast
Medium Pistol Pistol Agi + 2 Close
Heavy Pistol Pistol Agi + 3 Close, Slow
Imperial Rifle Rifle Agi + 3 Long, Two-Handed
Assault Rifle Rifle Agi + 4 Long, Fast, Two-Handed
Sniper Rifle Rifle 1B Agi + 5 Long, Slow, Two-Handed
SMG Medium Slug Agi + 2 Close, Fast
Shotgun Medium Slug Agi + 5 Close, Two-Handed

Energy Guns use the following table. Laser guns and Flameguns do not trigger energy shields. Blasters bleed through energy shields (see the Energy Shield description.) Flamers continue burning on a successful hit for 2 damage per round for 1d6 rounds (or until smothered).

Gun Specialty Training Damage Qualities
Laser Pistol Laser Agi + 0 Close, Fast
Laser Rifle Laser Agi + 1 Long, Two-Handed
Assault Laser Laser 1B Agi + 2 Long, Fast, Two-Handed
Blaster Pistol Blaster Agi + 4 Close, Fast, Piercing 2
Blaster Rifle Blaster 1B Agi + 6 Long, Two-Handed, Piercing 3
Blaster Shotgun Blaster Agi + 6 Close, Two-Handed, Piercing 3
Flamegun Flamer Agi + 2 Close, Slow

Shields and Armor

An energy shield triggers automatically against all slug guns and blasters (and anything similarly energetic), but does not trigger against melee attacks and anything else going much slower than the speed of sound. When hit by a gun when wearing a shield:

  • Reduce the shield’s charge by the base damage of the weapon + the armor worn’s bulk rating (e.g., a character in half plate (bulk 3) hit by a Sniper Rifle would reduce the shield’s charge by the attacker’s Agi + 5 + 3).
  • For slug guns, deal 1 damage per Degree of Success (mitigated by any armor worn under the shield). At some areas of the body the shield is thin enough that some force from the slug will make it through.
  • For blasters, deal 2 damage per Degree of Success (also mitigated by armor). This represents the energy and heat bleeding through the shield even if the plasma was dissipated away from the body.

Energy shields can also soak up falling damage if the character falls far enough to generate enough speed to trigger the shield (greater than 20 yards or so). Doing this reduces the damage to 0 but has a 50% chance of shorting out the shield (and reduces 30 points of charge even if it doesn’t short it out).

Different shields have different battery sizes:

  • Standard Shield: 50 charge
  • Dueling Shield: 100 charge
  • Assault Shield: 200 charge
  • Battle Shield: 300 charge

Armor in the Known Worlds is generally better than in Westeros. Use the following chart for armor:

Armor Rating Penalty Bulk
Jerkin 2 0 0
Studded 3 -1 0
Mail 5 -2 -2*
Half Plate 5 -1 -3*
Scale 6 -2 -3*
Plate 9 -4 -3*
Ceramsteel 14 -7 4
Synthsilk 3 0 0
Stiffsynth 6 -1 -1
Adept Robe (Powered) 14 0 0**

* Plastic has -1 Bulk
** Adept Robes also add +2B to Athletics

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System Review: Fading Suns, Conclusion

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Fading Suns feels to me like it’s incapable of disguising its origins: a bunch of former White Wolf designers with a love of Pendragon come up with an amazing idea for a setting and cobble together a system for it out of what they’re comfortable with.

The system exists in a weird sort of temporal limbo. Five years earlier and it would have been contemporaneous with the White Wolf system, and seemed like an iterative innovation over Pendragon. Five years later and it would have probably just used d20, if the system really wasn’t as important as the setting (and it did eventually get a d20 version, though it seemed little used because all the sourcebooks were for the original system).

But Fading Suns happened to come out only very shortly before a wave of heavy innovation in gaming that left it with very little room to breathe. It doesn’t quite have enough old school flair to claim its old school flaws are actually features. It doesn’t do skill based as tightly as a lot of other systems from the time period. And it doesn’t do anything really innovative or setting-specific enough to justify designing a whole new system.

In the end, Fading Suns is a prime example of the kind of system that caused Ryan Dancey and the rest of the OGL founders to push d20 so heavily: it’s a game setting that doesn’t really justify a never-before-seen system that forces players to learn new rules, and would have been better off as just a handful of setting-specific tweaks to a proven game engine.

The current licensors of the IP are planning a 3rd edition to be released soon. I’m keen to see whether the system remains compatible with nearly all that’s come before (as 2nd did with 1st), or whether they’ll try to get it to a point where it truly justifies being a unique game engine.

System Review: Fading Suns, Part 3

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Character Lifepaths

Fading Suns has the distinction of being the only system of which I’m aware to retrofit a history-based character creation method on top of a point-buy method. In first edition, Fading Suns character creation was very similar to White Wolf: X points to raise characteristics 1-for-1, Y points to raise skills 1-for-1, and Z bonus points to raise everything else on a chart-based scale.

In second edition, this system was kept, but the preferred method is to make a character by following a life path. Instead of doing history-based creation like Mechwarrior, where characters that come out aren’t mechanically equal, the Fading Suns method essentially breaks the existing character creation method into pre-set packages. For example, in the first stage of creation, a High-Court Hawkwood compared to a Landless Decados would have the same number of points using the original method, they’re simply spent on different traits.

While this method does preserve bonus points and min-max opportunities at certain stages, it goes a long way towards preventing the hugely idiot-savant-esque characters that the system would otherwise incentivize. It also does a good job of helping a new player sort through the huge mass of options inherent in a skill-based system.

So, I actually can’t find fault with the character history creation method. I’m honestly curious why it didn’t go further, and why more games with robust settings and standard PC assumptions don’t do something similar.

Combat Manuevers

A strange element of Fading Suns is its reliance on purchased combat maneuvers. Perhaps as a way to balance mundane characters against the cost of making powered characters (see below), the game features a wide variety of combat maneuvers for martial arts and swordfighting (and a few for guns). These maneuvers must be purchased independently from the associated combat skill (though each maneuver has a minimum skill prerequisite), and getting a wide range can become very expensive.

While the maneuvers are flavorful, they are often very specific as to their utility. And trying to buy a lot of maneuvers can functionally double or triple the cost of raising the combat skill (they’re not cheap). A player could probably get more benefit out of trying to get the GM to allow putting points into blessings and benefices to provide skill bonuses and better equipment.

Ultimately, the combat maneuvers are a cool idea, but are both over-priced and under-utilized. They seem like something to which a price tag was added to try to balance mundane fighters against the incredible expense of building a psychic or a theurge, but mundane combat has easier tradeoffs for potentially less cost. Using similar focuses for lots of other skills could have resulted in a fun and innovative system, but, instead, charging for maneuvers that would traditionally just be standard options for a skill feels grafted on and out of place with the rest of the system.

Powers (Psi and Theurgy)

Even compared to the cost of building a mundane fighter with all the combat maneuvers, creating a character with powers is prohibitively expensive.

As mentioned in the last entry, psychics and theurges require a whole characteristic (Ego or Faith) that no mundane character really worries about. This becomes the prerequisite for their powers. Unlike other characters, they need to buy up their Wyrd trait, because it’s required to use powers. But the real kicker is that every power requires a different characteristic + skill combo.

Let’s look at just one path: Soma (one of the better combat paths). The traits involved in each level are:

  1. Introvert + Vigor
  2. Passion + Vigor
  3. Calm + Vigor
  4. Introvert + Stoic Body
  5. Extrovert + Vigor
  6. Extrovert + Charm
  7. Introvert + Remedy
  8. Calm + Focus
  9. Introvert + Vigor

To use a single path, a character needs to have good values in four characteristics (which are two sets of opposed characteristics, so having a high value in all of them is impossible) and six skills, in addition to the cost of raising Psi as a prerequisite and buying the powers. Conversely, a character can master the fencing arts with a high Dexterity, decent Strength and Endurance, and paying triple-cost for Melee (the skill plus associated manuevers). A level 9 Soma specialist easily paid twice as much exp as a level 9 Fencing specialist. And the Soma character is probably also trying to round out additional psychic paths, while the fencer has effectively peaked as a playable character.

The powers in Fading Suns are neat. But they come with an in-setting limitation (the inquisition) and an in-system limitation (Hubris or Urge, which are big negatives on powered characters). They’re neat, but even at high levels they’re only rarely overpoweringly good. The decision to make these powers both individually expensive and multiple-attribute-dependent is somewhat baffling.

Conclusion

2d20 for Fading Suns

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Based on a suggestion from another Fading Suns GM, my preferred method of using the Victory Point system was with two d20s instead of one. The gist of the system (apart from accenting and wyrd mechanics explained at the link) was:

  • Roll 2d20, keep the highest die that’s still a success.
  • The roll is only a critical success if one die roll the target number and the other is also successful.
  • The roll is only a critical fumble if one die rolls a 20 and the other is also a failure.

Doing this changes the success rate pretty drastically:

Target 1d20 Success 2d20 Success
1 5.0% 9.8%
2 10.0% 19.0%
3 15.0% 27.8%
4 20.0% 36.0%
5 25.0% 43.8%
6 30.0% 51.0%
7 35.0% 57.8%
8 40.0% 64.0%
9 45.0% 69.8%
10 50.0% 75.0%
11 55.0% 79.8%
12 60.0% 84.0%
13 65.0% 87.8%
14 70.0% 91.0%
15 75.0% 93.8%
16 80.0% 96.0%
17 85.0% 97.8%
18 90.0% 99.0%

Just looking at the chance of success, it’s interesting how much it suddenly curves to look much more like a White Wolf-style dice pool mechanic than a percentile mechanic. Importantly, in my mind, this means that it’s not as drastically necessary for players to try to absolutely max out their skills to regularly succeed: in practice, a trait total of 10 is supposed to be pretty good for a starting character, and now that character has better than a 50/50 shot on rolls. It’s immersion-breaking in the extreme for the system to pretend that you have a good trait and then fail on it half the times it’s important, at least in my opinion.

Additionally, this method puts a curve on fumbles and criticals. In 1d20, you have a 5% chance of a crit and a 5% chance of a fumble, no matter what. In 2d20, the chance of crit goes from 0.3% at TN 1 to 9.3% at TN 19, while the chance of fumble does exactly the opposite. Effectively, the higher your TN, the bigger your chance to crit and the smaller your chance to fumble, which seems more logical.

The other interesting thing is what it does to expected success totals:

Target 1d20 Avg. VP 2d20 Avg. VP
1 0.0 0.0
2 0.0 0.0
3 0.3 0.4
4 0.5 0.5
5 0.6 0.6
6 0.8 0.9
7 1.0 1.1
8 1.1 1.2
9 1.3 1.5
10 1.5 1.7
11 1.6 1.9
12 1.8 2.1
13 2.0 2.4
14 2.1 2.6
15 2.3 2.8
16 2.5 3.1
17 2.6 3.3
18 2.8 3.7

The chart above is the average number of victory points for a successful roll (not counting criticals). The numbers don’t look terribly different, save that the 2d20 is slightly higher. In practice, this is because, with 1d20, success VPs are completely flat: if you succeed on 1-10, you a successful roll has a 10% chance for each result. In other words, any time you succeed, you will roll less than half your best result half the time. Conversely, with 2d20, you have at least a 75% chance of rolling over the halfway mark (because if both dice are under the target number, you choose the larger result).

Old school game design looks at the 1d20 and declares it adequate: the higher your score, the higher the chance of success and the result of success. But looking at the raw numbers doesn’t cover the feel at the table, where excessive swinginess results in player disappointment. Over multiple rolls, a flat die result evens out, giving an advantage to the better character, but how often do characters make multiple rolls on the same skill outside of combat? In practice, a player may get once chance to shine with a given non-combat skill per session, and, with a flat die, the result of the roll can feel almost completely disconnected from the score. Using 2d20 to curve the result creates a situation where, even on a single roll, a higher score feels meaningful.

System Review: Fading Suns, Part 2

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Character Statistics

If the dice mechanic for Fading Suns is like Pendragon, the character mechanic is much closer to White Wolf (with some notable carryovers from Pendragon, discussed below). This isn’t surprising, considering that Fading Suns was created by former White Wolf developers.

In most cases, a character’s trait total is equal to Characteristic + Skill + Misc Mods, just as in White Wolf. Characteristics range from 3-10, with 6-8 being regarded as a good range for a competent starting character. Skills range from 0-10, but, interestingly, the most commonly necessary skills (combat skills, perception, stealth, athletics, and social skills) start at 3. So, before modifiers, the worst a character can have in a common skill combo is generally 6 (min characteristic 3, min skill 3). The most a character can have is 20 (which, as mentioned in the last post, isn’t any better than an 18).

Modifiers typically come from Blessings and Curses (the system’s merits and flaws), which typically provide a plus or minus 1-3 to certain rolls (Beautiful characters gain a +2 Charm, for example). These stats aren’t terribly well balanced, especially during character creation. The value of a blessing or curse is often equal to the value of the skill bonus it provides. Since the Current Level Conundrum is in full effect, it’s often far more effective to buy up the associated skill further instead of taking a blessing, or to buy up the skill with the points from a curse to completely negate it. Essentially, blessings and curses are too straightforward and mechanical, making them very easy to min-max.

Characters also have Benefices and Afflictions, which replicate White Wolf’s backgrounds and non-mechanical merits and flaws: rank, ownership of property, addictions, phobias, etc. As with blessings and curses, these are fairly easy to min-max. Also, an interesting artifact of the price of rank means that many PCs will start off much higher ranked (in their noble house, church sect, or guild) than the setting seems to assume. For example, becoming a Baron is easily within range of a starting character, when all the fiction assumes PC nobles will be knights (the minimum possible rank). Since the genre fiction is less specific about the relative political potency of church and guild titles, it’s not uncommon to have PCs with 5-7 points in their guild or church rank being led around by and deferring to knights with only 3 point titles. This is weird.

But not as weird as Opposed Traits.

Opposed Traits

As mentioned at the top of this entry, there is one set of character statistics that takes more inspiration from Pendragon than from White Wolf: Spirit characteristics. In addition to three physical and three mental characteristics, characters also have six opposed characteristics (eight in first edition). A character’s sum of two opposed characteristics cannot exceed 10. Since they start at 3 and 1 for each pair, a character will typically have 3-9 in the primary characteristic, and will only raise the secondary characteristic if the GM likes to call for rolls of it a lot. But the GM probably won’t, because, despite being the most complicated traits in the game, the opposed characteristics have erratic mechanical support.

For example: Extrovert vs. Introvert. Extrovert is the only social characteristic in the game. There are two primary skills and four secondary skills that require Extrovert as a base. There are only two skills, both secondary, that suggest using Introvert. Introvert is effectively another mental characteristic, so Wits, Perception, and Tech are much more frequently used. A character that decides to make Introvert primary is effectively deciding to not be able to participate in social rolls, in tradeoff for an advantage with a handful of psychic powers (at least as many of which use Extrovert).

Another set of opposed traits, Faith vs. Ego, is typically meaningless unless the character has powers, in which case psychic characters raise Ego and church mystics raise Faith. Of all the opposed traits, Passion vs. Calm is potentially the hardest choice, as both traits actually have useful associated skills. However, because the system rewards having very high trait totals, it’s still probably better to raise one of the two to exclusion of the other to gain a good chance on one vs. a mediocre chance on both.

Opposed traits work (to the extent they can be argued to work) in Pendragon because they are rarely directly, mechanically used except to test a character’s response to a social stimulus and to qualify for prerequisites. And there’s still relatively little reason not to completely favor one trait out of each pair. Also, a character automatically has the maximum possible value with both traits combined (e.g., there’s a total of 20, so a trait of 5 on one side automatically means a 15 on the other) and strategy is about shifting the midpoint to a place that the player is happy with. In Fading Suns, the opposed traits start out low and paying to raise one lowers the effective maximum for the other. The game tries to make both sides relevant to all characters and fails.

In practice, players raise Extrovert if they have to make a lot of social rolls, raise Faith or Ego if they have special powers, and otherwise completely ignore the traits as too much exp for the benefit. While I have some issues with the opposed traits in Pendragon, Fading Suns managed to copy all of their flaws and none of their merits.

Part 3

System Review: Fading Suns, Part 1

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The New Dark Age of the Year 5000

The year before Fading Suns released, I picked up a promotional flyer for it at Dragon*Con, where it was set to release at the next con. I spent much of the year in anticipation, and got my copy as soon as the dealer room opened on the first day. I have a larger percentage of the supplements for Fading Suns than for probably any other game line with more than a half dozen products. My longest running campaign was Fading Suns. To sum up: I am a huge fan.

I say all this to give some context when I also say that the system is generally pretty terrible.

The Fading Suns setting is brilliant. You can run just about any kind of game in it from epic fantasy to gritty mystery to Lovecraftian horror to technological thriller to political drama. The books do an excellent job of putting together a fairly coherent universe in broad strokes such that it’s easy to fill in whatever detail you need to run what you want and still make it feel consistent with the setting. My game linked above featured running around on spaceships looking for ancient artifacts, dealing with intrigues in the succession of a noble house, tracking down the source of an intergalactic drug ring, stopping a horrible enclave of genetic engineers, and thwarting a plot to throw the politics of the known worlds into disarray by unleashing a barbarian horde into civilized space. It was pretty wide-ranging in tone, and I couldn’t have done anything similar in any other setting.

And I had my players roll dice as little as possible.

Core Mechanic

The only other game I’ve played that has a similar mechanic to Fading Suns’ Victory Point System is Pendragon. It has some minor differences, but the core concept is the same “Price is Right” mechanic: roll as high as you can on a d20 without going over the target number. Like in Pendragon, rolling exactly your target number is a critical, and rolling a 20 is a fumble. Unlike Pendragon, the results are actually converted to successes (“Victory Points”): if your result was successful, divide it by 3 to get successes. If it was a critical success, those points are doubled (so rolling a 15 as a normal success is 5 VPs, rolling it if that’s exactly your target number is 10 VPs).

This is probably a good time to mention, again, that I have a nigh-irrational dislike of roll-under systems in general. Even though, statistically, it’s possible to make a roll-under system a 1-to-1 match for the probabilities of a roll-over system with the same kind of die, it doesn’t feel the same. As a GM, it’s harder to remember to apply a bonus or penalty to rolls than to set a difficulty to roll over. As players, we’re trained that rolling higher is better, so it’s a disconnect to actually want the results toward the middle of the die. In addition, “Price is Right” methods feel even swingier in play than normal roll-under mechanics: over many rolls, a higher score makes a difference, but on any given roll it may feel like your score is meaningless if you happen to roll low anyway.

All that said, the problems with the Victory Point system are not limited to the die mechanic.

Part 2

Serial Numbers Filed Off 4: Gates

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Originally posted April 2008

Planescape: Ascending Primes

The greatest of the Sensates have begun to hear a new noise, a ripple from the fabric of creation. The greatest of the Fated have deciphered it, revealing a ritual of great power. The greatest of the Athar are certain that it’s a ritual to contact the true gods beyond the Powers.

The Powers are silent on the issue, strangely so. The streets of Sigil must be inked with the runes of the spell, turning the city of doors into one single gate. Standing at the center of the Outlands, where no magic should function, the ritual will send a single seeker through the torus of Sigil and into the unknown.

Assuming you can even gather all the materials needed for the ritual, how do you get a city full of factions, much less the Lady, to let you enact such a working? And what will you find beyond?

Fading Suns: The Fading of Men

Three Keys for the noble-kings under the sky,
Seven for the church-lords in their naves of stone,
Nine for guilded men doomed to die,
One for the builder on his dark throne,
In the gates of Sathra where the shadows lie.
One Key to rule them all, One Key to find them,
One Key to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the gates of Sathra where the shadows lie.
— From the Eskatonic Scriptures

Many have forgotten the sad affair of the Keys, which hastened the fall of the Second Republic. A brilliant pilot and engineer, it was said, discovered twenty philosophers stones in an ancient cache, and worked out how to turn them into universal jumpkeys with the help of human and Ur tech. They could open any jumpgate, no matter to where, no matter if it was locked, no matter if it was in the middle of reset. Some say they had other abilities built in, too: not the least of which was the power to adjust the Sathra dampers and jump engine of a ship to render it effectively invisible to all sensors.

Such power is dangerous enough alone, and great battles broke out over the upset balance of power. Then the builder revealed his master stroke: the one key he had kept for himself was bound to the others, and he could monitor them and selectively control their access to extort obedience from their owners. Eventually war was made upon him and his allies, and his ship was destroyed, the Key seized by a great leader, one of Alexius’ ancestors. He never made it home, and the One Key was lost to the jumplanes.

Now the Key has been found by unlikely travelers. And the Builder is somehow moving once again: the church elders say that the manipulation of the Sathra field by the Keys left him and others open to the demons between the stars, bound by the gates. His consciousness seems stretched across the gates, and the lesser Keys, seeking to bend men to another war and to open the gates to the dark between the stars.

The only way to stop him is to return the One Key to the Ur ruins from which it came, and hope that the ancient tech is enough to purge his consciousness from the jumpweb. But the ruins exist deep in lost space, and the Builder’s old allies are even now marshaling there for a great assault on the known worlds.

Pray that men have not faded with the suns, for their greatest strength is needed today.

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