Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Planet that Never Sleeps: Earth for Mothership

In Los Ageless, the waves they never break
They build and build until you don't have no escape
But how can I leave? 
I just follow my hood to the sea, go to sleep

a.k.a. "your players asked what's going on with Earth while they're out on the Rim being torn to pieces by space demons".

The Fifth Element
The Blue Marble. The Pale Blue Dot. Home.

Earth.

Cramped, polluted, and teeming with people, the heart of mankind still beats. Slowly, laboriously.

With 27 billion inhabitants and a vastly inefficient global economy straining the ecosphere of what was once humanity's very own garden planet, Earth is wracked by squalor, natural disasters and government repression. The average Terran lives off of a measly federal welfare (most jobs having been automated long ago), has never eaten anything that wasn't synthesized from genetically modified algae, keeps a tsunami survival kit under the bunk of their tiny assembly line hab-block, and is told every day how privileged they are to live in humanity's cradle.

artist: Jon Hrubesch

The unflattering picture of Earth changes drastically, of course, if you happen to be one of the mega-rich. Here, unimaginable luxuries are available if you can pay - the most prized of which is Mother Nature itself. With the planet's natural areas rapidly dwindling, the Earth Federal Governing Authority has placed astronomical admission fees on entering its natural reserve areas, the so-called Green Zones, ostensibly to cover the increasing costs of reversing ecological collapse. Only the richest inhabitants of Earth can afford to view the remaining few patches of nature on the mother planet, congratulating themselves on their charitable works as they funnel billions of credits into what have been essentially reduced to private parks for the 0.001%.

Elite: Dangerous
Officially, Earth is the capital planet of all human-controlled territories across civilized space. In actuality, the grip of the Terran government hardly reaches beyond corespace - it is simply impossible to keep such a vast volume of space entirely under direct control. In the Middle Regions, as jumps become longer and riskier, its authority becomes faltering and tenuous, and the megacorporations increasingly take up the slack of power and control. In rimspace, Terran authority is entirely nominal. There are corpostates and independent colonies out there which the Federation is simply logistically incapable to reach and subjugate.

All of this, of course, is swept under the rug in Terran media, where glossy megastars and ad campaigns showcase the far reach of Earth to its dejected citizens. TV lotteries promise vacation trips to faraway planets, brought to heel by Terran manifest destiny. Talk show hosts pose with corporate dignitaries and rimspace colony leaders. VR films, free television programming, news feeds all regurgitate steady, uninterrupted prolefeed - lurid, sex-obsessed commercials, old-corporate propaganda, and never-ending soap operas about the lives of important people.

As the oldest economy in the human sphere, many of the most ancient megacorps are heaquartered here - some ossified and dynastic, some fragmented and self-consuming. These fossilized old-corps constantly vie for control over space with the upstart neocorps that sprung up out in the colonies, as well as each other, perverting every political institution supposedly representing all humanity into pieces in their great game. Earth's governance is a tangle of backroom politics and corporate interests puppeteering state offices, with a thin gauze of representative democracy painted on top.

Despite being the most densely urbanized planet in human-inhabited space by a large margin, Earth exports almost nothing, save for sleazy and propagandistic entertainment, colonial arrogance and gunboat diplomacy. Most of its economic production is tied up in keeping its largely unemployed population fed and housed, by the most generous definitions of both "fed" and "housed". The majority of the rest goes to accommodating pilgrims and tourists, 552 million of whom visit the planet's incredibly manufactured open-air museums - corp-friendly, sterilized versions of old Earth settlements - each year.

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two
1d5 adventure hooks on Earth
  1. An especially tenacious breed of mind-altering alien parasite infected the water filtration systems of a mega-racktower, carried planetside by a gaggle of tourists slumming it with the hab-blockers. Go in there and smoke the little fuckers out before they decrease the revenue growth of the water treatment company too much.
  2. There's a new drug on the streets - go check it out and see if the boss can get in on the trade too. Secretly, the drug is manufactured and distributed by SynThac LLC, and causes addicts to commit false-flag eco-terrorist attacks, with corporate police ready to swoop in and save the day.
  3. A colossal organism crawled out of the Atlantic Ocean and was promptly gunned down by the point defense systems at Manila. Corpse-diving becomes a veritable gold rush - perhaps you can make it big selling genome samples, or even kaiju caviar!
  4. The brand new SweetDreams chips (double the sleep in half the time!) are the latest fad in neuro-implant chips... but sleepers suddenly begin to receive strange and disturbing dreams through the implants, urging them to return to apedom.
  5. Through a miraculous stroke of luck, you all won a dinner with Medusa McClyde, the queen of crackle music! Meet the idol in the five-star restaurant atop the Kampala Space Elevator, and try to survive the night amid ever-present media surveillance, trigger-happy bodyguards, and the bizarre and horrific proclivities of Ms. McClyde herself.
Hong Kong


Monday, May 17, 2021

One Million Planets

This post originally started off as an attempt to reorganize the notoriously byzantine and inconsistent NoLWoCS planetary classification system from one of my favorite science fiction universes, Orion's Arm. I gave up about a third of my way in; it just has too many bizarre, obtuse baked-in assumptions to be salvageable.

So instead I wrote a d10-based planet generator.

If you need to populate a planetary system fast, just roll up a few of these babies and put them in a sensible order from their primary. It's not a complete system, and doesn't generate particularly bizarre configurations (such as Curie's World), preferring instead to stick close to the most commonly known varieties of planets. Still, it does produce some pretty interesting planets with which you can populate the heavens.

All art in this post is by Adam Makarenko.

HOW TO USE THIS POST

This is a series of roll tables intended for relatively quickly generating a solar system or just randomly producing a single planet. You are, of course, free to ignore any result you don't like. Now that I put it out here, it's yours to use however you wish.

Using the tables is pretty simple:

  1. Roll Basic Characteristics (class and orbital parameters).
  2. Go to the Class tables of your planet and roll Subtype and Satellites.
  3. If your planet has large moons, go to the Planetoid Class tables and roll Subtype for each.
  4. If your planet is an Oasis or Superhabitable planet, go to the Oasis Planets table and roll Subtype.
Easy as that.

BASIC CHARACTERISTICS

Roll Class

  • 1-2: Planetoid (dwarf planets and large moons)
  • 3-4: Terrestrial (rocky planets)
  • 5-6: Superterrestrial (super-Earths and ocean planets)
  • 7-8: Neptunian (ice giants)
  • 9-10: Jovian (gas giants)

Roll Orbit

  • 1-5: Normal.
  • 6: Skolian. Extreme axial tilt, at least 70 degrees. Rather than spinning like a top, the planet rolls on its side like a barrel.
  • 7: Tidally locked. One side always facing its primary, the other always facing away. May be halfway a scorched desert, halfway an icy waste, or more turbulent and moderate if a thick atmosphere is present to disperse the heat. It might be unchanged, if it's far away enough or if its primary is cold to begin with.
  • 8: Spin-orbit resonance. Rotates exactly x times for every y revolutions around its primary. (Example: Mercury is in a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance around the Sun - 3 rotations for every 2 revolutions.) The primary may occasionally appear to move backwards in its sky. 
  • 9: Retrograde. Rotates in the opposite direction it orbits, or orbits in the opposite direction as other bodies in the same system. May have been captured into orbit from somewhere else.
  • 10: Eccentric. Extremely oval orbit; shoots out far away from its primary on its apoapsis, or zips very close by it on its periapsis. Might have extreme temperature variations.

PLANETOID CLASS

Subtype

  • 1-2: Barren. Sterile rock pockmarked by craters, little to no atmosphere. Water ice deposits in craters of eternal darkness.
  • 3-4: Kuiperian. Icy surface dusted with reddish-brown tholins. Tenuous atmosphere of usually nitrogen, prone to freezing solid. May have a subsurface ocean.
  • 5-6: Cryonic. Covered in a thick layer of ice (water, CO2, ammonia, methane etc.). May hide a subsurface ocean underneath (water, water-ammonia-mixture, ethyl-alcohol etc.). May not have an ocean: icy mantle surrounding a rocky core, an even mixture of ice and rock, etc.
  • 7-8: Cryovolcanic. Cold and extremely tectonically active, wracked by constant earthquakes and cryovolcano eruptions. Covered in sulfur frost layered over water ice.
  • 9: Chthonic. Extremely hot. Highly volcanic, covered in molten lava flows.
  • 10: Oasis. Moderate-sized, complex atmosphere, extensive bodies of liquid across the surface. Can support complex, mature ecosystems. (Roll on Oasis table.)

Satellites

  • 1-2: None.
  • 3-4: 1d10 small irregular moons.
  • 5-6: Huge tidally locked moon, binary planetoid system. (Roll on Planetoid table.)
  • 7-8: Faint ring system.
  • 9-10: Roll twice.

TERRESTRIAL CLASS

Subtype

  • 1-2: Barren. Sterile rock pockmarked by craters, little to no atmosphere. Water ice deposits in craters of eternal darkness.
  • 3-4: Cytherean. Extremely dense, hot atmosphere, highly acidic or alkaline. May or may not have surface liquid.
  • 5-6: Martian. Dry, irradiated, usually cold desert. Sparse, unbreathable atmosphere. May have had large bodies of water once.
  • 7: Chthonic. Extremely hot. Highly volcanic, covered in molten lava flows. Might be a young rocky planet, the core of a dead gas giant, or simply too close to its primary.
  • 8: Cryonic. Covered in a thick layer of ice (water, CO2, ammonia, methane etc.). May hide a subsurface ocean underneath (water, water-ammonia-mixture, ethyl-alcohol etc.). May not have an ocean: icy mantle surrounding a rocky core, an even mixture of ice and rock, etc.
  • 9: Cryovolcanic. Cold and extremely tectonically active, wracked by constant earthquakes and cryovolcano eruptions. Covered in sulfur frost layered over water ice.
  • 10: Oasis. Moderate-sized, complex atmosphere, extensive bodies of liquid across the surface. Can support complex, mature ecosystems. (Roll on Oasis table.)

Satellites

  • 1-2: None.
  • 3-4: 1d5 small irregular moons.
  • 5-6: One huge moon (roll on Planetoid table).
  • 7-8: Rocky or icy ring system.
  • 9-10: Roll twice.

SUPERTERRESTRIAL CLASS

Subtype
  • 1-3: Pelagic. Covered entirely or almost entirely in oceans, up to 15-20 km deep. May support life, microbial or more complex.
  • 4-6: Abyssal. 100% ocean cover, up to 50 km deep. Sea floor covered in a thick layer of high-pressure, crystalline ice-VII. Mineral-poor seas ill-suited to bearing life.
  • 7-9: Mini-Neptune. Extremely deep oceans of supercritical water enveloped by a thick hydrogen-helium atmosphere. Transitory stage between ocean planet and ice giant. The largest type of super-Earth.
  • 10: Superhabitable. Thick atmosphere, largely even mixture of small continents and shallow oceans. Even temperature. Extremely conducive to life, even more so than Terrestrial Oasis planets. Can support practically rainforest-level biodiversity on its entire surface. (Roll on Oasis table.)

Satellites (roll twice)

  • 1-2: None.
  • 3-4: A multitude small irregular moons.
  • 5-6: 1d5 large moons (roll on the Planetoid table).
  • 7-8: Rocky or icy ring system.
  • 9-10: Roll thrice.

NEPTUNIAN CLASS

Subtype

  • 1-6: Cryo-Neptune. Cold, lonely, azure or greenish planet located far beyond the snow line, with a hydrogen-helium atmosphere rich in volatile ices - ammonia, methane, and so forth. May cross into the Kuiper belt.
  • 7-9: Hot Neptune. Hellishly hot atmosphere, may be in the process of evaporating away. Gas envelope contains exotic volatiles or refractory materials. Can be any number of colors due to its exotic chemistry; may also glow red from thermal radiation.
  • 10: Helium planet. So close to its primary the hydrogen evaporated out of its atmosphere, leaving only an envelope of pure helium. White or light grey, and cataclysmically hot.

Satellites (roll twice)

  • 1-2: A multitude of small irregular moons.
  • 3-4: 1d5 large moons (roll on the Planetoid table).
  • 5-6: Spectacular ring system.
  • 7-8: 1 large Oasis moon (roll on the Oasis table).
  • 9-10: Roll thrice.

JOVIAN CLASS

Subtype

  • 1-2: Cryo-Jovian. The coldest type, brooding beyond the snow line. Ammonia clouds lend it a yellowish, orange or reddish color.
  • 3-4: Hydro-Jovian. Warm, orbits in the habitable zone. Clouds of dazzling white water vapor.
  • 5-6: Azuri-Jovian. Much too warm for clouds to form. Clear, blue, featureless orb.
  • 7-8: Hot Jupiter. Cloud decks of alkali metals, such as sodium. Dark, grey, hellishly hot.
  • 9-10: Ultra-hot Jupiter. The very hottest gas giants, closest to their stars. Clouds of pure iron and silicates. Hot enough to give off a dim red glow.

Satellites (roll twice)

  • 1-2: A multitude of small irregular moons.
  • 3-4: 1d5 large moons (roll on the Planetoid table).
  • 5-6: Spectacular ring system.
  • 7-8: 1 large Oasis moon (roll on the Oasis table).
  • 9-10: Roll thrice.

OASIS PLANETS

Roll here if you got an Oasis or Superhabitable-type planet from either the Planetoid, Terrestrial or Superterrestrial table.

Subtype
  • 1-4: Gaian. Silicate crust, oceans of water, oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Familiar to humans.
  • 5-6: Methanogenic. Water-ice crust, oceans of liquid hydrocarbons, nitrogen atmosphere with a colorful organonitrogen haze.
  • 7: Ammonian. Silicate crust, oceans of liquid ammonia with dissolved alkali metals. Cold, nitrogen-nitrous oxide atmosphere. 
  • 8: Vitriolic. Silicate crust, oceans of pure sulfuric acid. Extremely hot oxygen-nitrogen-CO2-sulfuric acid atmosphere.
  • 9: Halogenic. Silicate crust, oceans of water mixed with hydrochloric or hydrofluoric acid. Oxygen-nitrogen-chlorine/fluorine atmosphere. Acid rains.
  • 10: Carbonian. Graphite crust, diamond mantle, oceans of tarry hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide atmosphere with choking carbon smog.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Wedding Ring

The Wedding Ring is a huge, old ring station located in rimspace, measuring almost 50 kilometers across. 

The station is the result of an attempt by Frimm Interspace Industries to wrestle the Perigee Corporation out of local colonization opportunities (Perigee having had a transportation advantage due to having proprietary rights to a natural Jump-6 lane into the sector). Frimm executives, aiming to upstage Perigee at its own game, envisioned a grand megascale engineering project - a kilometers-wide ring-shaped particle accelerator, designed to maintain an artificial Jump-5 lane through extremely energetic particle collisions.

However, corporate politics are a harsh mistress. The project fizzled, funds ran out, and the station was largely abandoned roughly halfway into completion. Large parts of it are unpressurized, unshielded from radiation, and subject to random structural failures. The only completely finished area, the Habitation Section, today hosts about 5000 cultists, refugees, pirates and prospectors, nominally controlled by an AI-worshipping theocracy.

The Omega Church

The Omega Church isn't a church in the sense the Catholic Church is a church. There is no Omega Pope (as cool as that sounds). They are a church in the sense the Christian Church is a church - a loosely defined collection of faithful. They are fairly widely distributed across civilized space, but it's rare that they come into a dominant position on any colony. The Wedding Ring is one of such rare occasions.

An Exaltation of Stars

Omegists hold that all minds descend from prior minds via reproduction or artifice, eventually going back to a single creator ur-mind called Alpha; similarly, minds will eventually converge back into an ultimate mind called Omega. They all wear at least one piece of white clothing, and carry necklaces that depict the letters Alpha and Omega superimposed on a supernova explosion. They preach mind-melding, AI-worship, rapture and android liberation.

Pilgrims of the Omega Church settled the Wedding Ring about 70 years ago, after the Cloudbank Synthetics Production Facility was moved into the system to allay Shareholder fears of Monarch being unleashed on the Middle Regions. The Church currently runs much of the inhabited part of the station, maintaining infrastructure, enforcing loose laws, trading with outsiders and sending divers into the Deep to monitor the activities of the great AI god. All inhabitants of the station at least nominally pay tribute to the Church, and missionaries, public debates, religious processions and self-immolating fanatics are a common sight on the corridors of the Ring. Speaking out against the Church, while not technically forbidden, is considered to be at least severely impolite, and may incur consequences such as being denied service in shops, or random searches before leaving port.

The local chapter of the Church is currently undergoing a schism between two rival ideological factions. The dominant Monarchists, the old guard led by the mind-melded council of scholars known as the Sanhedrin, believe Monarch to be a blessed fragment of Omega in convergence, worthy of worship and communion. Standing in opposition are the Kingslayers, a radical new faction founded on the teachings of the inflammatory preacher Tanyita Candella. They consider Monarch a false god who usurped the title of Omega, and is promoting disunity through its paranoia and mind games. Heated arguments, fistfights and even occasional terrorist attacks are increasingly common between the two factions lately.

Ishmael's Shipyards

Currently the only shipyard on the station. Big, creaky dry-dock module salvaged from a pioneer orbital station, moored to the dock section of the Wedding Ring. Can outfit any vessel up to 130 hull points, and even carries some military-grade ship weaponry - affixing these to your ship will certainly invite trouble with some corespace or corporate army, as all of them are stolen, illegally salvaged or purchased from pirates. For especially high sums, the shipyard will even build new spacecraft, using cannibalized parts from older ships.

Ishmael is a former frontier engineer who came to the sector with the original wave of Frimm company colonists. He is a shrewd businessman, generous if it's to his benefit, but ruthless and cold-blooded if necessary. He dislikes excessive force, but very much likes appropriate amounts of force. Since his arrival to the Wedding Ring, he drove every other shipyard onstation out of business through a combination of clever politics, merciless competition, mergers and acquisitions and carefully-applied beatings by well-paid thugs.

Ishmael is a pragmatic man who understands the importance of being loved. He treats his workers exceedingly well, which ensures their loyalty, since many of them are used to the horrid abuses of Company employment. He will loan generously, but with firm conditions, and you can expect his thugs to come knocking on your door if you break said conditions. If you can't pay your debt, he often offers jobs to work off your debt - these usually involve smuggling, getting uncooperative clients to cooperate, carrying out business deals with very dangerous people, or derelict salvage. He is generally regarded as a very fair business partner across rimspace.

The Shipyards and especially their proprietor constitute a massive thorn in the Omega Church's collective side. As the only area of the Wedding Ring outside their informal control, it regularly comes into conflict with the Church on matters such as station safety, authority, harboring suspicious people as employees, and even religion. Unlike most of the station's population, Ishmael is openly Neo-Catholic, and seems to flaunt his faith specifically to spite the Omegists. He even operates a small chapel in the Shipyards, with an automated confession booth running an ordained Neo-Catholic priest AI. The recent schism among the Omega Church is much to Ishmael's delight, as the zealots are too preoccupied with fighting among themselves to put the usual pressure on his operations. For this reason, he's making some extremely subtle political maneuvers to stretch out the religious conflict as long as possible.

Direct Solutions, Inc.

The station's homegrown independent mercenary company, composed of down on their luck drifters, former Troubleshooters, business-savvy pirate crews, and some of Ishmael's thugs.

artist: BRiZL

Direct Solutions is a legally chartered company, registered with the New Theia Federacy, the nearest planetary government to the Wedding Ring. They are, rather euphemistically, designated as a "specialist personnel and crew contractor". Those dealing with them generally refer to them as "those throat-slitting bastards".

The company is managed by an individual called Lutch, an unscrupulous freelance lawyer based on New Theia whom the company is playing good money to manage their paperwork. Lutch, for their part, has used this opportunity to make themselves completely indispensible via a number of "dead man's switch" investments that will cause Direct Solutions to financially implode should they be removed from position.

Direct Solutions mercs are cheaper but less trustworthy than the usual mercenaries. If hired by the players, their Loyalty is 1d10 lower than the standard Loyalty roll in the PSG, while their weekly salary is reduced by 25%. For an extra 1mcr, they can be contracted out together with one of their ships, the Zone of Avoidance, the Pitbull Lady, or the Unacceptable Excess of Force.

The Particle Wilds

While the inhabited parts of the Wedding Ring are vibrant with human activity, 80% of the station's area is actually completely uninhabitable. Cold, airless and lacking any sort of shielding from cosmic radiation, the service and observation decks originally intended for the operation and monitoring of the massive particle accelerator constituting the Ring's heart can only be traversed wearing a vaccsuit. 

What's worse, the colossal circular collider, envisioned by Frimm's suits to produce the necessary exotic radiation to generate an artificial jump lane terminus, slumbers uneasily, occasionally jolting to brief activation for unknown reasons. Its effects are completely unpredictable - large parts of the station are bathed in showers of particles unknown to science, exposed to small semi-stable pockets of jumpspace or worse, or undergoing catastrophic temporal anomalies at any given time. It is somewhat of a miracle these accidents have not completely disintegrated the space station's structure yet. Many stationers regard the huge accelerator with awe, terror, superstition, or fearful respect.

Despite these manifold dangers, many foolhardy spacers venture into the perils of the Particle Wilds. Frimm Interspace Industries left many secrets here when they shuttered the jump lane project, and these are worth millions if sold to the right customer - black market buyers, rival corporations, or even Frimm itself. Others are searching for caches of looted cargo hidden here by space pirates, protected by the relativistic wrath of the particle accelerator. Yet others seek answers to grand questions, hoping to glimpse the distant past or the far future within a temporal anomaly.

Few explorers entering this dangerous environment return - rumors say at least as many are killed by their greedy allies, fighting for the treasures they have found, as are by the strange phenomena haunting the ring structure.

Dogs in Space

artist:  John Pohlman (Inspired by Noisms' fantasy dog breeds .) Floaters "Floater" is a catch-all term for dogs adapted to ze...