Monday, January 31, 2011

% Liar:


Whereas the monster stats in D & D typically included the percentage chance that a creature would be encountered in its lair with treasure (% in Lair), the early Arduin grimoires included the % Liar stat, indicating how likely it was for the monster to lie to adventurers. Many monsters were noted as being too stupid to lie, notably, Phraints were always truthful and Thunderbunnies always lied.

As I've been thinking about source books for the Dying Earth and my own Dying Earth influenced setting, AOS...including the % liar stat makes some kind of weird sense...

The Giant Ghost Crab Goblin Formation

The pinjzhar, or giant ghost crab, was an infantry formation used commonly by the goblin mercenary armies of the Thujan princes, particularly during sieges and in battles with the dreaded Yinyin nomads of the Red Wastes.

Named for the giant undead crustaceans of the Thujan upland marshes, the typical pinjzhar formation consists of 40 goblin light infantry, armed with round iron shields and long kruul spears, deployed very densely. The first row of goblins would hold their shields from about the height of their shins to their red glowing eyes, so as to cover the formation's front. The shields of the goblins on the formation's flanks would be held in such a way that they presented a shield-wall to all sides. The goblins in the mid and back ranks would place their shields over their heads to protect the formation from above, balancing the overlapping shields on their helmets. Those goblins on the sides and rear of the formation would stand sideways or backwards with shields held as the front rows, so as to protect the formation's sides and rear. As awkward as this seems, the goblins of the Thujan Lunar Mountains were particularly adept at walking (and speaking) backwards; some actually preferring this mode of ambulation (and elocution).

The mobile fortification that resulted from this tactic provided excellent protection against arrows (-4 to hit against ordinary missiles) and was so marvelously strong that it could be used to bridge narrow ravines as goblin infantry, wolf-riders and even horses and light wagons could be driven over it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Night Specials: the Hli’ir

Hideous Space Beast (the Hli'ir)

No. Enc.: 1-4
Alignment: Neutral (Inimical)
Move: 120'(40’)
Armor Class: 1
Hit Dice: 8
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8+3
Morale: 10

The Hli’ir are mad creatures that rarely and mysteriously appear on starships in deep space or near other sources of inter-dimensional energy use.  These space beasts are often described as generally man-sized, shambling bipeds with sickly green fur and an indescribably hideous face.  The visage of the Hli’ir is so terrible that anyone who gazes upon it must save vs. death or suffer the effects of space madness (see table below).  Any character that engages in combat with the Hli’ir while shielding her eyes attacks with a penalty of –4, and the Hli’ir receives a bonus of +2 to hit.  Hli’ir have a bonus of +4 to all saving throws.  In combat, these exceptionally strong beasts attack with claws or ad hoc bludgeons.

It is believed that this creature exists simultaneously in multiple dimensions and the "madness" it causes is the result of either its powerful telepathic ability or a disruption in local mental frequencies associated with inter-dimensional disturbances. Similar attacks of Space Madness sometimes afflict individuals traveling in inter-planar space. When encountered, the Hli’ir often seem to dash about insanely.  There is a 30% chance that an encounter with the Hli’ir will consist of the monsters speeding by and ignoring all around them. Little is known of this beast; it is reported to be only semi-intelligent and incapable of reason or communication.  The bodies of these creatures disintegrate upon their death.

SPACE MADNESS TABLE

Roll

Effects
1
Death (50% instant, 
50% suicide) 
2-3
Permanent* catatonia
4-6
Catatonia (1-20 days)
7-12
Permanent* hallucinations and intense paranoia**
13-17
Hallucinations and intense paranoia** (1-8 days)
18-19
Hallucinations and blinded (1-4 turns), develops permanent* phobia 
20
Permanent* immunity to space madness, develops haunted appearance
*Permanent effects may be reversed by super scientific
medicine or psychic treatments
**Hallucinating paranoid victims are 80% likely to attack
friends or bystanders, otherwise they flee

Image above by Frank Frazetta, copyright status unknown.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holy War

Recent discussion of the Shén -Transporter Wars and specifically of the role of religion in Humanspace circa 62000 AD brought to mind Metagaming’s 1979 MicroGame, Holy War, a two player strategic space war game.

Holy War utilized a pretty clever mapping scheme that represented three dimensional space wherein a series of seven connected hexes, each representing a volume of one cubic light-year, spiraled down within each mega-hex. A similar system for 3-D space mapping was used in Godsfire, another Metagaming product by the same designer, Lynn Willis.  Sweeping warp-lines, representing “unusually accessible folds in space,” were also included on the star map. These provided shortcuts through space and Warp Line Generator ships (WLG or vulg kankal) were available to project temporary artificial warp lines for use by friendly star craft. Lacking a convenient warp line or a friendly WLG, ships were generally limited in movement to one adjacent hex per turn. At the risk of dispersal, simulated by allowing the opposing player to place the dispersed ship anywhere on the map, ships were allowed to attempt long distance jumps of up to six hexes.

Like most of the MicroGames, Holy War was not particularly remarkable in terms of its combat resolution. Combat occurred when opposing ships occupied the same level and both players agreed to engage. Combatant ships were then ordered into flights and the weapon system, launched weapons, energy weapons, or psychic weapons (which allowed boarding enemy ships) to be employed by each flight was randomly determined. Each player then totaled the appropriate weapon system strength for the engaged flights, the lesser total was subtracted from the greater total to obtain the Combat Differential, and each player rolled a d6, indexing the roll to the differential on a table, Results included no effect, damaged weapon systems, dispersal, or destruction of the flight.

The individual ship units, including Rangers, Star Cruisers, Probes, Jammerswarms, Luckships, Pressorships, Starbusters, Psycheships, Emissaries of Prayer, et al were actually pretty interesting and this stemmed directly from the game's fascinating setting.

The action took place within a 30 light-year wide pocket universe within the body of Amtik, an intelligent, slightly damaged giant space cloud, possibly some sort of alien bio-machine. Within Amtik, the laws of physics were bent; time and light speed were compressed. The opposing space fleets were crewed by the Eltani, a highly philosophical space faring race that had split into warring factions over the nature of God. Amtik had been unaware of their existence and rapid development until it detected the Eltani building pyramids on their home world, soon afterwards they are flying starships to the edge of the universe to check out Amtik’s exposed sensor points…

From the back of the book:
"GOD" is alive and well...
Amtik the god had a problem. The universe was internal to his 400,000km long self. He was "god" to the universes' inhabitants. Unfortunately, only the Holy Band truly believed in and worshipped Amtik. The unruly Sunthrowers believed in Amtik's existence, however, they also believed that "life was not an end, but a by-product of systems design." Amtik was in danger! The Sunthrowers were hurling stars at his universe sensor ducts. The Holy Band wanted his divine intervention. A sun in the ducts would dissipate poor Amtik and free his creations. While the Holy Band mightily struggled to believe and triumph, Amtik might even get bored and "turn-off" his universe…

Some of my favorite units in the game:

Emissary of Prayer (vas val or fearing tongue) ships were crewed by a compliment of 120 fanatical, ritually purified monks. Victory conditions required that one of these be present in one of Amtik’s sensor ducts to plead the faction's case with God…

Jammerswarms, operated by the Sunthrowers, were capable of blocking communication between Holy Band vas val and Amtik. The game book noted that if the Sunthrowers really believed that these were effective using them would have been essentially heretical…

Both the Sunthrowers and Holy Band engaged in intensive ESP research; Luckships (gelon, never trips) and Holy Band Psycheships (efgelon, we trip you) were crewed by ESPers. Luckship crews could sway a battle with PK powers; Psycheship crews could mentally dominate and reprogram the brain-circuits of Sunthrower units, converting them to the Holy Band cause.

Pressorships, huge Sunthrower ships covered with spines and robot subships (ipital), used to push a star through some sort of sub-space window with the ultimate goal of shoving it in God’s sensor duct…

Holy Band Starbusters (eche tihn or God Hurters), drone ships designed to explode the stellar core of a star being shoved around by the Sunthrowers…

…back to Humanspace Empires…there’s something in Holy War, maybe the weird fanatical space cults pushing stars around or trying to blow them up, or the ESPer ships, or the prayer ships full of space monks that, if run through some sort of Buck Rogers Fantastic Pulp Sci-fi translation device, speaks to me of Humanspace…

Also…those 3-D star maps might be useful for tactical space battles…more on that soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Shén -Transporter Wars



At first the Shén were neutral to man, but they soon determined that if they remained passive, the aggressive human worlds would expand and envelop their region and stiffly resisted human attempts to push them off. A series of small engagements resulted, and both sides suffered losses.

Eventually men and Shén came to realise that this was a fruitless enterprise—the logistics of interstellar war are too difficult to make it profitable—and the Treaty of T’kru (the Shén world capital) was signed. Trade developed, and mutual respect also came into being. Although ferocious in battle, the Shén had never been needlessly cruel—and fortunately at this time in human history the forces fighting the Shén were followers of the Transporters, a highly moralistic, authoritarian, almost prudish sect. Neither side thus committed atrocities, and peace came easily once war was done.


from the Splendour of Shényu by M.A.R. Barker

Transporters? It seems likely that the Transporters were a human faction or pocket empire in the Beyond at the fringes of Shén space. Why were they known as the Transporters? Perhaps they were attempting to transport something or someone (themselves, a substance, an entity, a star, an ancient device?) through the Shén Star Empire toward the Galactic Core. Or...were they known as the Transporters because they had the power to transport? Or....

Any ideas? 

How the Kaika Lost its Legs


As previously noted, Chirene (AKA Jeff Berry), Aethervox archivist and an early participant in Professor M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, has generously offered to provide the Humanspace project with assistance in our research of the far future’s past.

Recent conversations with Chirene have provided insights into Professor Barker’s view of the time of the star-faring Ancients and, interestingly, how advances in real world technology and changes in the sci-fi genre over time have altered Tekumel.

Tekumel grew out of the dreams and fantasies of the young M.A.R. Barker, a precocious youth in the 1930s and 40s, an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines of the time. Tekumel was a science fantasy world-building project of a scale almost unheard of, a brilliant, incredibly exotic world and universe with its origins in sword and planet tales, the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Weird Tales, and Astounding Science Fiction Stories.

Time passed, scientific discoveries were made, books were published and games were played. Tekumel becomes legendary in the RPG hobby, a creation so detailed, so exotic and strange that some considered it unapproachable. Still, its fan base grew, internet forums were devoted to discussing the Empire of the Petal Throne and the world of Tekumel.

Pause for a moment and consider that Tekumel, unlike the bog standard Tolkien influenced fantasy worlds of many early role playing games and campaigns, Blackmoor withstanding, included a background of star spanning empires, space aliens, and super scientific devices. The internet fans, fueled by an access to information previously unheard of, wanted more of this super-science and they wanted it to be…scientific.

Chirene noted:

Many of Tekumel's fans don't seem to be able to understand that Tekumel was created long before many of the scientific discoveries that we regard as commonplace, and that Phil(Professor Barker) just didn't have all of that information on hand in the 1940s.
… one of the things that always hurt Phil was being hit with questions about technology when he didn't consider it important to the stories he wanted to tell; very technically sophisticated fans would really take him to task about this, and it always really bothered him that they hadn't read any of the fantasy or science fiction from the 1940s and 1950s that he had grown up with.
Phil *always* got hammered in these discussions as he literally had no idea how this stuff worked; all he had to know, he used to tell me, was that the Three-Light Drive was used to move ships around between star systems, and devices like the interfogulators were a later refinement of the principle that was used to move smaller objects like people around the same way, two different approaches to the same purpose, providing the required plot device to get to the same goals.
 
Clearly for Professor Barker, at least in the early times, the super science only mattered in terms of its efficacy in the game, in telling stories, and in keeping the action moving. Physics always took a back seat to fun and a good story. This approach was not good enough for some of Tekumel’s fans and Professor Barker evidently felt pressure to make some concessions.

According to Chirene: 


In-system ships move around at very high speeds, as they have to move fast enough in Phil's happy phrase "to keep the plot moving". The speed of light is probably their upper limit, but the engines are gravitic ones that are similar to the ones in the planetary cores of Tuleng's system. Again, same principal, different applications. Phil was actually pretty consistent in how he used what technology he needed, and tried to keep the same underlying principals at work if only for simplicity's sake.
…Phil would change his view of his world to suit their preconceptions. In my own time, I watched this sour him a lot, and we wound up trying to head off a lot of this as it simply upset him. Phil wanted to walk with Dejah Thoris; many of the fans thought she was dumb and hopelessly old- fashioned, and wanted the bridge of Babylon Five.
It's been kind of sad to see the fan community in most of the genres becomg more and more fixated on the hardware, and not on the action / adventure / romance plot lines that Phil first wrote in. For Phil, the hardware was never of much interest; he wanted to tell exciting stories about the people and places that he imagined, not about the right shade of paint or the kind of screws used to hold the panels on.

Chirene has a great story that sums up the sad problem of the toll taken by scientific advances and changing tastes on Tekumel, specifically on one specimen of its fantastic six-legged fauna:

How the Kaika Lost its Legs 
The 'old' kaika, in 'old' Tekumel, was a large turkey-like waterfowl that was very comical; small, pretty much useless wings, and six legs. Very tasty, and easy to catch and prepare for dinner. Phil once joked that we should have a kaika for Thanksgiving dinner, and his wife Ambereen offered to get four extra turkey legs and sew them on a turkey for the occasion. Unfortunately, a fan on the then new Internet trotted out his degree in biology and denounced the kaika as being "scientifically impossible"; too many legs, and the offending legs were soon deleted in the later drawings that were published.” 

The kaika still has its six legs in Chirene’s 'classic' games, and his players are still amused by its antics just as we were at Phil and Ambereen's dinner table years ago. Chirene suggests that one look at the oldest material for Tekumel to better perceive Professor Barker’s vision of the world.

Check out Chirene’s other accounts of gaming in the early years of EPT with Prof. Barker and Dave Arneson:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Atomic Armageddon, Humanspace, and the Popol Vuh


It is significant that the that the future "Atomic Armageddon," a persistent theme in the sci fi the 1950s, is the match that lights the fuse on Prof. Barker’s 125, 000 years of future history and that the event is recorded in 2012-2013 AD. This date may or may not coincide with the end of the current 13th b'ak'tun, or cycle of creation, on December 20, 2012, according to the Popol Vuh, a corpus of mytho-historical narratives, prominently including details of creation accounts known to the Post Classic Mayan K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Yet there is hope. Maya inscriptions have been found that reference predicted future events or commemorations that occur post 2012 AD. Further, the current piktun, the higher cyclical order that includes multiple b'ak'tun in the Long Count, has a completion date of October 13, 4772. By this time, in the ancient past of the far future, over 2700 years after the nuclear war that devastated the nations of Earth, the remnant survivors of the planet’s civilizations, notably Maya groups in Central America, Tamil speakers on the Indian subcontinent, and a handful of Yemenis, may have been engaged in a desperate struggle for their survival with horrid radioactive mutants across the blasted dead landscapes. One can only speculate at what apocryphal event coincided with the end of the piktun in the late 48th century. The Pé Chói may remember, the event was likely recorded by their surveillance station in the Kuiper Belt.

Visitation Upon Aos


THIS IS THE BEGINNING of the ancient recordings of a planet beyond Xoth; a world called Aos or Zaoth, in its 777th cycle, in the years before the explosion of its second sun. Aos was known to host several eldritch metallic brains and an incredible, now lost, library of arcane and alien codices deep beneath its surface.

Three civilized lands were last there amidst the weird and terrible wildernesses and the apocalyptic ruins of the 776th cycle, the Theusz Hamtaahk', the Cycle Of Hate. Beyond the boundaries of these countries were wastes populated only by savages, uncouth men, phages, mad dwarfs, vile monsters, and murderers.

The northernmost land was cold and cruel hyperborean Thuja, a mountain kingdom of half-mad necromancers, arcane citadels, undead armies, bat winged orinthopters, goblin hordes, demons and the priests of unspeakable, beastly gods. To the south was miasmal, chthonic Ix, the black and bloody desert land of the mummified living God Emperor. In the east, beyond the red wastes of the dead god's decaying rusted bones and the places infested by the draconic and interdimensional Archzeuhl and the vicious Demizeuhl stood the decadent city states of the Jadi and the manses of the arch-magicians in the lush but deadly Po River Valley.

Visitation Upon the Dying Earth


Jack Vance’s the Dying Earth series remains one of my absolute favorite works of fantasy (or science fantasy) and has probably influenced the themes and settings of my games more than any other fiction.

I’ve played the Dying Earth RPG previously published by Pelgrane Press on occasion and I think it's a fine game with a lot of great supporting material but I've often felt that it would be a blast to adapt the setting for OE D & D. I'm sure that this is not an uncommon desire (e.g. and you need another reason to grok the Hill Cantons, check out the stats for the pelgrane and deodand posted some time ago) but, although it seems that such a thing would be already extant, I’ve yet to find a fully realized old school Dying Earth sourcebook.

As I will likely be running an old school game in the near future, set either in the Dying Earth or in my own setting that is heavily influenced by Vance’s masterpieces, I need to produce such a sourcebook. It seems to me that the Dying Earth could be run on the LL chassis pretty readily with the additions of a few new monsters and magic items, tweaking the classes, and, most significantly, an overhaul of the magic system that includes true Vancian spells, rules for the employment of sandestins, etc.

I've been working on the magic system and present below a few of the one hundred or so known spells of the Dying Earth. Most are derived directly from the novels, a few are based on original spells in the aforementioned Dying Eart RPG, and a few are of my own invention, based on classic D & D spells.

If all goes as planned a free pdf of old school Vancian weirdness is in the future. Of course this project treads even more precariously on the intellectual property of others than my other favorite project, Humanspace Empires, the EPT Space Opera game. (Work on Humanspace Empires will continue apace but I don’t want to be a one trick chlen). Dying Earth material published on this web site represent not for profit fan publications and there is no intent to infringe upon copyrights held by Jack Vance, his agents or assignees, Pelgrane Press, etc.

The Astounding Oral Projection
Level: 2
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’
This spell imbues a chosen object or creature with a hallucinatory mouth. The caster can speak through this mouth as if it were his own or it may be cast so that the mouth remains closed and invisible until a specific condition stated by the spellcaster is fulfilled. The mouth will deliver a prepared speech of up to one hundred and eleven words in any language known by the magician. The spell is essentially permanent, lasting until it is magically removed or the spellcaster dies.

Call to the Violent Cloud
Level: 7
Duration: Instant
Range: 0
This most powerful transport spell summons a white wisp that quickly transforms into a pillar of boiling black smoke that will demand of the spellcaster the name of a destination. The magician must then inform the pillar of  his destination; the Cloud forms, and  instantly, though not gently, transports the magician and up to 12 associates with all that they carry and up to 12 riding beasts to the desired destination. The Violent Cloud will not transport others unless they are accompanied by the spell caster. It will transport its passengers to any location named including distant planets or other planes. Unless the exact location is specified in naming the destination, the spellcaster and any other passengers will be dropped in a random and often inconvenient location within the named area. In any event, the delivery is generally rough and unseemly; there is a 50% chance that each passenger will take 1d6 incidental damage in the landing.

Charm of the Duplicitous Face
Level: 2
Duration: 1 day
Range: Touch
The target of this spell will be transformed in appearance to exactly match any human or humanoid that the spellcaster has seen clearly. The target will look, sound, smell, and move exactly as the individual duplicated and even close friends, relatives, and the pets of that personage will be fooled. The target; however, gains none of the abilities, powers, or knowledge of one so duplicated.

Charm of Forlorn Encystment (Reversible)
Level: 9
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’ (Special in reverse)
Through this terrible and dreaded Charm any one target in range is placed in thaumaturgical stasis and instantly transported into an arcane concavity 45 miles beneath his or her location. No saving throw is permitted. Within this cyst the victim will remained imprisoned until the spell is reversed. Over time, the clothing and possessions of the entrapped individual will slowly rot and decay; however the victim will not age. If the Charm is cast in reverse, all victims who were encysted within clear sight of the caster (approximately within one mile) are instantly returned to the surface. If the magician knows the name and approximate location of a victim, it is possible to cast this spell so that it frees only the intended. Failure in casting the Charm may lead to this reversed version.

The Excellent Prismatic Spray
Level: 5
Duration: Instant
Range: 90’
This deadly spell conjures hundreds of many-colored threads of blazing fire that will pierce a single target's body, instantly killing the victim unless a save vs. spells is made. The spray is effective on any creature up to the size of a large whale and will pierce any armor. The Excellent Prismatic Spray can be targeted upon an inanimate object and is capable of destroying any object that could be broken by a very strong man wielding an axe.

Felojun's 1st Hypnotic Spell
Level: 1
Duration: 3d4 turns
Range: 30’
This spell will place a number of living creatures with 4+1 Hit Die or fewer in a hypnotic sleep. The magician may only affect one creature if it has 4+1 HD, but the spell will otherwise affect up to 2d8 HD of creatures. Calculate monsters with less than 1 HD as having 1 HD, and monsters with a bonus to HD as having the flat amount. Creatures with the fewest HD are affected first. Sleeping creatures are helpless and can be killed instantly with a bladed weapon. Slapping or wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise does not.


Liberation of Warp
Level: 3
Duration: permanent
Range: 30’ radius
Upon casting this spell a strong etheric pulse is created that instantly dispels any and all magics that have been cast on a creature or object within a 30’ sphere surrounding the spellcaster, by any magician of equivalent or lower level. If the level of the caster of the effect to be dispelled is higher than the caster of the spell, there is a cumulative +5% chance per level difference that the attempt to dispel will fail. The effect of a spell with an instantaneous duration will not be dispelled. Magic items are not destroyed by the spell; however, effects produced by an enchanted item are negated for one round. Certain anti-magical charms, such as Laccodel's Rune, are proof against this spell and provide protection from its effects.

The Omnipotent Sphere
Level: 5
Duration: 12 turns
Range: Special
The Sphere produces a bubble of impenetrable force around the magician. The spellcaster can expand the bubble into a sphere up to 12 feet in diameter. The expanding sphere will push objects away from the magician; however if immobile objects are encountered the sphere and magician will be pushed away from these. The Omnipotent Sphere protects the caster from all physical damage, spells, cantraps, magic items, and direct attacks by sandestins. The caster remains vulnerable to environmental effects and disease. While within the sphere, the spellcaster may not cast any spells other than those that affect only him but may end this spell at any time before the maximum duration has expired.

Pho’s Re-Animation of the Worm Ridden
Level: 5
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60’
This spell turns the bones or bodies of dead creatures into undead skeletons or zombies that follow the magician’s spoken commands. The undead can follow the caster, or they can remain in an area and attack any creature (or just a specific kind of creature) entering the place. They remain animated until they are destroyed or until a Liberation of Warp spell is cast upon them. The caster may animate a number of hit die total of zombies or skeletons equal to five times his or her level.

Spell of Temporal Stasis
Level: 9
Duration: Concentration
Range: Self
The Spell of Temporal Stasis accelerates the spellcaster to a speed sufficient to render the remainder of the universe essentially static. All creatures and objects are immobilized; any portable inanimate objects’ however, will be freed of the spell if the caster touches such objects. As this spell requires great concentration to maintain, difficult or complex actions are impossible for the spellcaster. If an Arch-Magician's sandestin produces the effect, the magician can act freely. Note: the inherent laws of magic forbid magical actions including the enchanting of items, memorizing spells, or summoning sandestins, while under temporal acceleration.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

High Fashion in Humanspace

Schoolmaster observed the striking similarity between the mode of dress adopted by actress Jenny Agutter in her portrayal of Jessica 5 in the 1975 film Logan’s Run and what passes for high fashion amongst the interstellar elite of 62000 AD. Thanks to Al at Beyond the Black Gate for the original post that brought this to our attention.

Logan's Run may have been the first sci-fi film I saw on the silver screen.  I would have been about eight years old at the time.  I remember accompanying my much older sister and her sci-fi loving boyfriend to see the film. Logan's Run and Jenny Agutter have been kicking around in my subconscious for a long time...


Saturday Night Specials: Sandworms

Ayá (Giant Sandworm)

No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Move: 120'
Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 36
Attacks: Special
Damage: Special
Morale: 12

The giant sandworms of the desert world Canopus III, a distant Terran colony at the fringes of Hokun space, are considered one of the most dangerous creatures in the galaxy. Thousands of these huge cannibalistic segmented worms tunnel beneath the planet’s desert sands. They average 250-300 feet in length, range from reddish brown to pale tan in color, and are covered with fine cilia. The creature possesses a huge soft-fringed frontal mouth circled by a ring of tiny black eyes.

Due to the great size of the giant worm, it is capable of over-running and crushing smaller creatures, vehicles, and equipment (save vs. Death to avoid being crushed if in the path of a moving worm, a successful save still results in 2d6 damage ). Its mouth is its only weapon. The Ayá may attack any and all targets near its mouth. It will swallow opponents on any attack more than 2 over the minimum necessary to hit. In six turns the swallowed creature(s) will be dead, in twelve turns any victim(s) will be digested and unrecoverable. An Ayá is unintelligent and will always attack targets in its path.

It has been reported that the desert dwelling nomadic people of Canopus III worship these creatures and have learned to summon, mount, and ride them.

Aqáa (Lesser Sandworm)

No. Enc.: 1-2
Alignment: Neutral
Move: 60’/60'/90’
Armor Class: 4/3/2
Hit Dice: 6/12/18
Attacks: 1/2/4
Damage: Special
Morale: 12

The Aqáa, the lesser sandworms of Canopus III, are closely related to the Ayá. They range from 20 feet to 60 feet in length. Unlike the the Ayá, the Aqáa are sometimes encountered within ancient ruins beneath the surface of the planet. The stats for the creature represent small, medium, and large specimens. When a lesser sand worm is encountered there is a 20% chance that it will be small, a 40% chance that it will be medium sized, and a a 40% chance that it will be large.

Like its larger cousin the Ayá , the Aqáa are capable of over-running and crushing smaller creatures, vehicles, and equipment in the path of the creature (save vs. Death to avoid 2d6/3d6/4d6 crushing damage for small, medium, and large sandworms, respectively). The Aqáa may attack one, two, or four targets (dependent upon its size) that are in proximity to its mouth. It will swallow opponents on any attack more than 2 over the minimum necessary to hit. In six turns the swallowed creature(s) will be dead, in twelve turns any victim(s) will be digested and unrecoverable.

As the horny hide of the lesser worm is not as thick as that of the giant sandworm, a swallowed victim has chance (30% each round) of cutting herself free. A victim can also be cut free by any companions that are able to attempt this (15% each round) or upon the death of the creature.


The above image is derived from a painting of the Mongolian Death Worm by Pieter Dirkx. The source image and the image above are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Humanspace Empires Chronology

The following represents a partial chronology of major events in the history of Humanspace Empires:


2012-2013 AD “Western Civilization" and the nations of 21st century Terra are obliterated by the Atomic Armageddon.


ca. 8000 AD Earth struggles out of the radioactive ashes and slowly rebuilds a technological civilization


9767 AD -ca. 16800 AD Duration of the One-World Empire on Earth


ca. 12000 AD Generation ships from Earth encounter the Pé Chói in deep space. The Pé Chói gift the peoples of Earth with the Three Light Drive and many other wondrous devices. Humanity introduced to the Páchi Léi from Arcturus, the Heglethyál from Unukulhai, the Tinalíya from Algol, the Ahoggya from Achernar, and other alien species. The Pé Chói warn Terrans of dangerous species including the Mihalli from Dorsum, the Nyagga from Alhena, the Hokun from Markeb, the Hlutrgu from Algenubi.


ca. 12200 Nininyal Traders first visit Earth.


ca. 12200 - 16800 AD Duration of the League of Worlds. Members included the Pé Chói, the Terrans, the Páchi Léi , and the Tinalíya.


ca. 12300 First Regulan War , earliest incursions of Algenubi into Humanspace


ca. 12600 Second Regulan War, establishment of the Neutral Zone between Regulus and Humanspace


ca. 12600 – 16800 AD Lasting Peace


ca. 16800 Third Regulan War, Collapse of the League


ca. 16800- 20000 AD First Interim


ca. 20000- 24000 AD Duration of the First Terran Empire


ca. 21200- 21500 AD Period of continuous interstellar warfare pitting the Terran Empire against the Regulans and the Hlutrgu.


ca. 24000 The Great War, widespread use of atomic planetbuster bombs


ca. 24000 AD- 26117 AD Second Interim


ca. 25500 Rise of the Clonemasters in Humanspace


26117- 48044 AD Duration of the Second Terran Empire, the Clonemaster dynasties.


47987-48044 AD Clonemaster-Cyborg War


48044 – 49002 AD Cyborg Empire


49002- 49440 AD the Lesser [Third] Interim


49401 AD Ansible invented by the Pé Chói


49440 – 54085 AD Duration of the (First) Humanspace Alliance


52940 AD Interfogulator invented


54044 –54085 AD nth Interstellar War ends, collapse of the (First) Humanspace Alliance


54085 - 55929 AD Fourth Interim


55929- ????? Humanspace [Third Terran] Empire


61167 AD First year, Dynasty of the Veritable Autocrator



ca. 61,800 AD First contact with the Shen of Antares, Shen-Transporter War


ca. 62,000 AD First contact with the Chima, the Urunen from Betelgeuse and the Hlaka from Ensis. Tekumel (Sinistra/ Nu Ophiuchi) is discovered by explorers from Humanspace amongst the trade routes of several stellar cultures including the Shen and pocket Empires in the Beyond.  


62,011 AD The present (Humanspace Empires RPG)


62,000-62,110 AD The armies and fleets of the Humanspace Empire combat the indigenous Ssu and Hluss civilizations in the Sinistra system. Following the victory of Humanspace forces, Tekumel is terraformed. War and terraforming result in the extermination of 98% of the planet’s native life . Surviving Ssu, Hluss, and related sentient species relocated onto closely guarded reservations


62,111-ca. 111, 912 AD Tekumel is the jewel of Humanspace, a pleasure planet and trading center


ca. 111, 912 AD Tékumel thrown into pocket dimension, the Time of Darkness. The same fate befalls 722 other worlds in Humanspace

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Whispers in the Dark



Kúrchek boldly stepped around the corner, the muzzle of his massive disintegrator rifle pointed down the corridor ahead of him. As he moved, the servos of his surplus battle armor whirred softly. A tactical lamp mounted on his weapon cast a brilliant beam of white light down the hallway.

The asteroid mining complex was ancient, so old that a patina of rust covered the allegedly “corrosion-free” duralloy walls and floor plates.  However, someone--or something--had been able to keep the long-abandoned complex’s air recyclers and artificial gravity generator operational. It was just the sort of place a dangerous cult would make its lair.

“All clear,” Kúrchek whispered to his comrades behind him. “What do your scanners tell you, Válunara?”

A female human rounded the corner behind the veteran legionnaire holding the complicated sensor array with one hand and read-out box in the other. As she made adjustments to her equipment, Kúrchek allowed himself an opportunity to give Válunara an admiring glance. Even through the protective shimmer created by her shield belt, he could make out her perfect figure and how it was complimented by the skin-tight space suit she wore.  If they survived this, Kúrchek reminded himself, he would take his crew to some nice pleasure world where they could spend their shares of the Potentate’s reward money. Somewhere he could have some private time with Válunara.

“Cha!” Válunara swore as she read the complex display of her contraption. Her cheeks were flushed with anger, further enhancing her beauty.  She hated it when her toys would not work as planned. “There is too much interference from the structure. Mayhap if I were to reconfigure the polarizer emitters or make a phase adjustment to the interocitor…”

“There is no time for that,” Chek’Pwet’Te said as he stepped up from behind the flustered woman. “The Potentate’s son may already be dead.” The Pé Chói held a glow rod aloft in one delicate, chitonous hand, a needle pistol in another and a virbo-blade in a third. The great insect starred down the hallway for a moment as if he was trying to look through the bulkheads with his large green eyes. Válunara clicked her tongue in irritation at Chek’Pwet’Te’s antics. The scientist was usually on friendly terms with the Pé Chói, but she mistrusted his mysticism and was constantly trying to show him up with her latest technological gadget. 

“Silence please,” the Pé Chói hissed, “unless you want Kúrchek to know what you were thinking whilst you were walking behind him and starring at his pos… There!”

“What do you see?” Kúrchek asked as Válunara tried to suppress an indigent remark.

“We are going in the right direction,” Chek’Pwet’Te said. His voice had a dreamy quality to it as if he was half-asleep. “A few hundred more meters… I sense… Intelligences…. Living things…. and… Something else…”

“What do you mean something else?” Válunara demanded as he trailed off. She had put away her scanner and drawn her own ray pistol. “No more of your riddles!”

“I know no more than I have told you, friend Válunara,” Chek’Pwet’Te replied. “I feel the presence of a group of intelligent beings in the corridors ahead, that and something that I can’t quite identify. Something dark and cold.”

Válunara didn’t say anything more as she angrily turned and started down the corridor. Chek’Pwet’Te started to follow, but Kúrchek laid an armored gauntlet on the Pé Chói’s shoulder to halt him.

“Wait,” Kúrchek said and he smiled slightly at the nonhuman. “Between you and me, what was Válunara thinking?”

Chek’Pwet’Te opened his beak slightly, an approximation of a human smile among his people. “Why, friend Kurchek, the same thing you where thinking about when she tried to take her sensor reading not a moment ago. But come, we haven’t a moment to lose!”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Khuvu in Nowhere: Lohan’s Tale


“I was born in Ys, in the Spiderwoods,” said Lohan, Priestess of Yezud the Bat-Headed One. “My father was a wood-cutter; my mother was taken as a sacrifice to the Carrion Crow in my sixth year. She was mutilated and chained to a stone a top of Mount Ged where the death birds picked her bones clean. Father sold me into the harem of Lord Varru at Citadel Sandustin. Varru was cruel but after he lost me in a game of skulls to High Priest Uvu of the Bat, I learned true deep suffering.”

“Such is the way of the gods and the fate of mortals,” said Khuvu.

“Fate? The concept of fate has the stink of law about it Lord Khuvu. Are you not aligned with Chaos?”

“Ha, Priestess, Chaos…yes…although some might say I am Evil or Chaotic and Evil or perhaps just one overly fond of change.  But about fate, I have read of a god of the peoples of the hill country in the west. He is a god of fate and they name him Ckutalik.

The people of that country have a curious ritual. They believe that Ckutalik is a just god, a judge; they formulate their desires, their plans, and their wishes and prepare arguments to sway the god to their favor. They hire scribes to write these petitions on scrolls of human skin and cast the scrolls into their hearth fires praying that the winds will carry their words to Ckutalik and that he will justly decide that their arguments are valid.

I suppose that they believe he reads their words and might strike dead a petitioner with a patently stupid argument, but ultimately it appears to be a system that rewards the clever liar. What is most amusing, and Chaotic, I contend, is that they believe that Ckutalik ultimately makes his decisions by throwing bones.”

Khuvu laid back, pipe in hand, drawing in the smoke of the red lotus.

“Lohan, would you like another hit of this?”

“No,” she replied, dreaming, “I’m good.”

Keep Watching the Skies


School Master, the sagacious scribe of  No School Like the Old School, will be dedicating a portion of his ambient brain wave activity to monitoring ansible signals from the far future's past and has graciously agreed to record any such transmissions that he might decode, here at ix.

I found the rocket girl above lost in the electron swarm.  I'm not sure where she came from or where's she's going.

The Hlutrgú

The Hlutrgú, the Frog-Men of Algenubi, are a vicious and powerful star-faring species and one of mankind’s most inimical foes in the cosmos. Little is known of the history and culture of this ruthless and cruel race; few Terrans have returned from a visit to the deadly worlds of the Hlutrgú.


Physically, they are small bipedal amphibian creatures averaging between about 4 and 5 feet in height with a rotund body, four limbs each equipped with a usable hand with six fingers, a skull-like head, and a wide mouth filled with sharp fangs. They have thick, rubbery skin mottled greenish, greyish or black and are completely hairless. The species includes three sexes: males (95 percent), female spawners (4 percent), and asexual leaders (about 1 percent).  It has been theorized that the worlds of the Hlutrgú are incredibly overpopulated and that this has resulted in their extreme aggression and psychotic behavior.   There are also indications that members of the leader caste are afflicted with a condition equivalent to extreme megalomania and a compulsion to conquer the galaxy.


The Hlutrgú have possessed starships for at least 60000 years, having been an enemy of the Pé Chói prior to humanity’s emergence into interstellar society. It is not known if this species developed super scientific technology independently or through contacts with other species.  Some galactic historians contend that the Hlutrgú were enslaved by the Hokun or the Regulans while still a primitive species on their hot and swampy home world in the Algenubi system.  It is known that the Hlutrgú are hostile toward all other star-faring races and have, during the many space wars fought between the empires of Humanspace and the Regulans, exploited the chaos in order to raid these more powerful neighbors.  


They appear to have no interest in interstellar trade.  Further, their attacks on human shipping and colonies seem to be motivated more by hatred and homicidal mania than by a desire to pillage.  They fight with vicious fanaticism in battle and are known to mutilate and torture their victims.  Sometimes they take prisoners; however it is not known if such unfortunates are enslaved or used for other perhaps even more horrible purposes.


Although the location of the Hlutrgú worlds beyond Regulus and their relatively great distance from Humanspace (Algenubi is located over 250 light-years from Earth), somewhat mitigate the threat of this mad race to human worlds within the Empire, Hlutrgú raids in the Beyond and along the periphery of Humanspace are not uncommon.


Hlutrgú are not generally appropriate for player characters.  Hlutrgú NPCs will have Strength and Dexterity scores of 8 or higher (2d6 +6) and are limited to a Psychic Ability score no greater than 8 (1d6 +2). They may function as Warriors, Astronauts, or Scientists; however their inherently low psychic potential limits their ability to utilize mind powers. They are typically outfitted with super-scientific weapons and equipment similar to those available to Humanspace characters.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Enthiran

It appears that S. Shankar’s 2010 Tamil-language science fiction film Enthiran (எந்திரன், the Robot) may have tapped into some garbled contra-temporal ansible signal from 62000 AD.

I don’t want to drop any spoilers so briefly; a robotics professor creates an android robot in his own likeness and eventually upgrades it with a positronic brain. Terrorist saboteurs, a robot army in a cybernetic revolt, singing, dancing, and the planned creation of a cyborg through artificial insemination follow and the film ends in the Twilight Zone.


The headgear in the image above certainly looks like it dates to early 621st century.


…and what’s up with the Silver Suits?


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Night Specials


Jel’un
(Armored War 
Robot Mk 3)

No. Enc.: 1-4
Alignment: Neutral
Move: 180' (60')
Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 10
Attacks: 2 (see below)
Damage: 2-12
Morale: 12

The Jel’un (Armored War Robot Mk 3) is a super-scientific improvement on the earlier Imperial Mk 1 and Mk 2 armored robot infantry models. They stand about nine feet tall, are constructed of a duranium-steel alloy and covered by a network of thin wires that cause 2-12 electrical damage to any attacker if the robot is struck with a metal weapon.

Jel’un may attack twice per round with robotic claws or, alternately use one of two special weapons: a powerful heat ray projected from their eyes (Range: 360’ Damage: 4-24) and a disintegrator ray projected from their left claw (Disintegrate, Range: 60’).

Jel’un are highly intelligent, equipped with a positronic brain deep inside the torso. Some (25%) are programmed to speak 1-4 common interstellar languages and all are capable of communicating in Machine language and include built in medium-range communicator devices. Their feet are outfitted with robotic climbing claws for difficult terrain. Jel’un are immune to mind affecting powers.

The Nlyss

The Nlyss or N'lüss represent a human sub-species rarely encountered within the Empire but present in greater numbers in regions of the Beyond. The Nlyss are typically taller than average humans, averaging about six to seven feet in height, and they tend to have a light, ruddy complexion and coarse dark hair. As a clone race, they tend to vary little in individual appearance. They are devotees of an ancient code of honor and tend to be arrogant and aloof.

In order to comprehend the origin of the Nlyss peoples one must recall the history of the Second Terran Star Empire (26117- 48044 AD), a period when interstellar society was absolutely and dictatorially controlled by the Clone Masters, a ruling class of genetically superior humans. The Clone Masters achieved  true biological immortality through extensive experimentations in Gene Vat technology. Under their ultra-conservative rule, interstellar human society was locked in near stasis, politically, technologically, psychologically, psychically, and even biologically, through continuous manipulation of the human genome on Imperial worlds, culling any form of naturally selected mutation.

The Nlyss were created as an army of super soldiers cloned from a cache of genetic material that had been preserved since the time of the Atomic Armageddon that decimated the Earth in the 21st century. These clone troops were engineered for enhanced intelligence and physical traits and trained from birth to be ruthless killers and the most effective fighting force in the galaxy, the Imperial Sultyat Clone Legions.

In the final years of the Second Terran  Star Empire, a faction of the Nlyss Sultyat rebelled against the Duranium Throne. The coup d’état was ultimately unsuccessful and the rebellious Nlyss were hunted across the stars and when captured, tortured to death. A contingent of the rebel clone troops; however, managed to escape into deep space with a rag-tag fugitive fleet of stolen starships that included one of the Empire’s largest warships. Although, after the fall of the Second Terran Empire and the Long Night that followed, the Nlyss were no longer a hunted people, they remained interstellar nomads, a people with no home world.  

Nlyss society, within the fleet, is organized militarily and the Commander holds all authority. They appear to have little or no interest in ruling star empires; however elements of the fleet are often employed as mercenary units by the rulers of various pocket empires in the Beyond. The Nlyss are also known to trade rare metals and technology to a variety of races within known space. Perhaps due to their existence as an Astronaut culture, the Nlyss are highly mystical. Star questing is a common requirement of Nlyss Astronaut religious orders.

The ancient Nlyss fleet has, in recent years, been operating in the Coreward Beyond at the fringes of Shen space. The current Empire still maintains the elite Imperial Sultyat Clone Legions and Sultyat Nlyss serve as the personal guard of the Veritable Autocrator. 

Nlyss characters must have Strength and Constitution scores of 12 or higher. They are best suited to be Warriors or Astronauts; however they may be Scientists and are not limited in their advancement in any class.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Khuvu in Nowhere: Gobber's Tale



“Lord Khuvu, it’s merely the application of advanced goblingineering principles and chaos theory  to basic sidereal subsistence issues, micro-scale socio-economic functions, and human-inhuman relationship equations.”

Gobber scratched spidery Goblic formulae in the sand with someone's broken femur.

“One can feed on preserved foodstuffs for 10gp each moon; dried zombie, gelatinous bouillon cubes, salt gar, broo cheese; edible but expensive and hardly gourmet fare.  

However; we can indenture a family of serfs for a capital expenditure of only 4gp moonly. Clearly these poor sods are not worth feeding. Starve them and work them to death and indenture twice as many or more next moon. 

Viz, we indenture 80 families for 320gp. We kill and butcher half of them, resulting in an estimated average moonly production of 40 pounds of meat per individual, including offal and viscera and factoring in the small children, of course, that’s 200 pounds of meat per family, and a grand total 8000 pounds of flesh. Cure it and distribute 40 pounds of serf jerky to each of 150 soldiers and 25 pounds each to 40 laboring families, save 1000 pounds for roasts and curries…we feed 400 for only 160gp.  It's like feeding the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats.

We won't be popular with the temples if this draws down the pool of sacrificial victims but we could appease the gods by sacrificing all of the laborers remaining alive at the moon’s end… and I need to factor in the price of bulk salt..."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Khuvu’s Travels in Nowhere


Notes for the Domain Game

Cousin.

I regret that I will be unable to attend the fête celebrating your graduation from the College of Necromancers. I've heard that your father has procured several pounds of black lotus for the event and that they will be sacrificing sixty slaves in your name. You Vauja have always been overachievers.

As you know, I have been chosen by lottery to lead an expedition through the portal that was found on the glacier north of Ahngbhad last summer. I've spent the last two moon cycles organizing the company. Tuun the Mad, your dear uncle, has offered me twenty serf families to serve as laborers. The price was quite fair. I hadn’t seen old Uncle Tuun since he received his new skeleton. I had no idea that he had died in the ritual but, I say, he is quite impressive as a lich.

We will be leaving at the Thaw. Muun will be acting as my lieutenant. I'm sure that you remember him from our winters at Citadel Blue. He has since trained at Ahpu with the Assassins. My father's old goblin slave will be accompanying us. He has assisted Muun in the hiring and outfitting of mercenaries. I have also chosen to invite Lohan, a young priestess of Yezud, to join our company. Worry not, cousin, my bones will always belong to you.

Prince Khuvu, son of Poju

The Black Ship

  
There was never a good reason to hope for success in our search. It was like looking for a needle in a nebula. The Nininyal treasure ship with the unpronounceable name, one of the largest starships ever built, the one called the Black Ship, was lost in the Beyond near Deneb over four thousand years ago. We had followed its route as far as it had been charted on the holo-disk we found on the dead body of the Regulan spy back on Altair IV.

We were well into the second year of the voyage. There it lay, derelict, in a tear in space, a little too close to a blazing white dwarf star.

Those big Nininyal trade ships are like giant insane mazes inside, probably designed to mimic their burrows on Mirach. No one believes what happened to us on the Black Ship. I was the only survivor, You can't imagine what kind of horrible things were on that ship. I'm completely mad now, I've seen the Machine God…

NEWS OF THE STARTLING UNIVERSE OF THE FUTURE’S PAST

 
Aethervox archivist Chirene has generously offered to provide consultation for this project and information from rare source materials that contain details on Professor M.A.R. Barker’s view of the time of the Ancients.  Chirene informed me of The Tongue of Those Who JourneyBeyond: Sunuz, Prof. Barker’s  dissertation on the Sunuz language used in pre-Collapse Humanspace.  A description of the article notes that it is “not merely an article about one of the arcane languages of the Five Empires, rather “[i]t is intended as a ‘consciousness-raiser: a means of introducing scholars to the study of the Pariah Deities.”   Fascinating.  

A few recent comments have concerned the possibility that this project could be submitted to the Tékumel Foundation for permission or approval.  As I understand the policy, a fan/not for profit publication must be ultimately submitted to the foundation for archival purposes.  Of course, I would love to have the Professor and the Tékumel Foundation look over this project.  I've heard that Prof. Barker has had health problems in the recent past, I hope he is recovered. 

I've had a busy week but have spent some time participating in ckutalik’s  awesome domain game.  This game is pure genius, the most fun online gaming experience I've had in a long time, better than those fantasy culture civ sims you may have paid for in the 70s.  Remember Tribes of Crane?

Also cool is Mike D.’s draft of the 1975 EPT Rules without the Petal Throne.  I’ve been trying to twist these same rules into Space Opera this week.

Before heading back to the Outer Zone I would like to thank all supporters of this project and issue a general call for assistance, art, and ideas.  Maybe if I can think of a way to make a game out of it…

Public domain image above appeared as the cover of Startling Stories  Summer 1946.




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