Thank you for joining us as we play Stars Without Number. When we played together last year we all wanted to get together again and play some more. Here we are. We’ve agreed to give it a shot for three episodes and see how we’re feeling.
This is our first session. Misha and Jay are playing Envoys, here to bring Sector Alas Theta back to the Terran Mandate after 300 years of isolation. Inspired by Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve decided that the Terran Mandate is a benevolent organization, with people who are doing their best in a bad situation. The Envoys will be briefed on what initial scans picked up and choose a planet to set their orbital platform HQ into orbit around.
Tonight their characters are getting to know each other as we explore Alas Theta’s factions and the sci-fi mysteries that drive them.
Not as in, an Away Team but as in, a team that has been away for a while. There are plenty of reasons to have been out of the loop for a while. Here are a a few:
Armed Forces Service
Medical Cryogenic Hypernation
Whatever the reasons you were away, you’re back and either knew the other players from a past crew or job and now were put togther as a Freelance Team in Razornet’s app for enterprising freelancers on the edge of legality.
We’ll talk about what kind of game we want to see. Do you want to have all known each other from you previous enterprise? Maybe you all know each other from time in some Void Marine unit or all survived a shipwreck caused by a malicious alien intelligence…
Terran Mandate Envoy Team
You have just entered the system with a checklist in hand and a vague authority that might or might not be recognized by the governments in this sector. Can you bring the sector back to the bosom of Olde Earth’s government?
Do you want to?
Your commanding officer is jumping to another sector but will be back with the full weight of (TMB) Terran Mandate Battlecruiser Serengeti’s weapons and marines in a year (you hope).
We’ll discuss how your characters all feel about the Terran Mandate government and make an Engagement roll to see how well equipped you are to start. I’m thinking I’d make a roll or two behind the screen to know when the Serengeti will actually arrive and what state it will be in once it does.
Your team just jumped into this system in a rare ship equipped with an Event Horizon-Gate Engine, designed to harness the energy of black holes and turn that energy into jump-gate coordinates that will send you to another black hole near a different sector.
Naming starships is fun.
We’ll make an Engagement roll to see how the ship is doing and how valuable your goods are in the hold and move from there. You’ll stay in this sector for as long as it is profitable to do so before moving on with whatever you can carry.I love the idea of jumping to different sectors, each sector as its own chapter or book or season…
You are representatives in a scrappy government that wants to stay self-governed. Maybe it is a moon or a orbital station or a science station whose original mission has outlasted the government that put it there. Either way, you are a team looking to represent and stay independent in the face of powerful forces all around you.
We’ll look at the map, talk over the Sector’s situation and put your home in a spot that makes sense.
To the Table
I’m thinking about how I might use these SWN Sectors (I’ve got a few more in my drafts section that aren’t quite ready yet) and how I’d pitch those games. The Burned Over playbooks are looking really good to me and so many of SWN’s worlds are in various stages of apocalyptic decline/ascension. Air and water are still a big deal. I don’t think we’d have to change much to make that work.
I’m reading through my Traveller LBB and I’ve got some vague ideas about using that chargen to get background and then Burned Over Playbooks to show what kind of physical shell the character is downloaded into but that all might be too much work.
In a perfect Sector re-entry contact scenario your Terran Mandate Bruxelles Class Battlecruiser would glide into dock at the Mandate Base. You would spend a few hours in silent contemplation of the site where humanity made its first landing and then call in the highest ranking naval officer, planetary officials, Perimeter Turing Investigator General, the Chief Exchange Officer, the Sector Archivist into a month-long series of meetings and reports in order to guide humanity back into the Terran Government’s loving arms.
Once that re-entry was complete there would be a sector-wide party.
In decades of envoy work I have never seen nor heard of re-entry going anything like that.
Since the Scream, the human diaspora has been cut off from its Earth roots. It is unclear if this document comes from Olde Earth or if it has been created by Terran Mandate naval intelligence, passed from long range flotilla to flotilla.
The checklist is a good set of guidelines for long range explorers with spike drives that can venture to different sectors. The marginalia from various envoys over the centuries shows where the checklist can come up short or not offer solid expectations for rookie envoys making post-Scream first contact with the humans who have survived the three hundred years isolated from their homeworld and its government.
are sometimes the center of the sector’s government and are often the primary naval base for any ships still claiming to be descended from the Terran Mandate. Gathering up the star drive signatures and transponder data is the first chore so that any envoys sent to the far reaches of the sector will know what to expect.
Marginalia RE: Mandate Bases
The sectors that still have a base are staggeringly rare. When they do, they are often helmed by total [untranslated slang for an orifice]-hole who claims to have their power handed to them directly from Earth’s Prime Minister or some bullshit.
My favorite Mandate Base was built on the original terran capital ship that settled the sector but it had been turned into a cathedral-ship dedicated to keeping humanity in touch with its terran roots.
Refused to hand over star drive signatures and transponder data because we couldn’t be a true Terran Mandate ship because were couldn’t possibly be human. We weren’t pure enough in our genetic codes. At least I didn’t feel guilty dropping a battalion of Terran Mandate Marines on their asses.
are in place to make sure no illegal unbraked A.I.’s are on the loose in the sector. The envoy is to take hold of the hunting records, gaining an understanding of how many A.I.’s have been neutralized and how many hunts are still in progress. The Terran Mandate ship offers its updated search algorithm so that future hunts, based on carefully sifted data, can be completed at a higher rate of success.
Marginalia RE: Perimeter Agencies
Guess which organization AI most often take over when they gain significant power and mobility in the sector. You guessed it. I got in assuming the Perimeter Agency is entirely compromised and work backwards from there.
We don’t even check to see if they’ve made any improvements to the search algorithm that could be better than ours. We are [difficult to translate synonym for genitalia].
There’s an envoy theory that Draco wrote this checklist. Yeah, I still use it.
The Exchange Consulate
is the center of banking and diplomacy, is a key cultural touchstone in keeping the sector moving and working.
Marginalia RE: Exchange Consulate
I’m waiting to find that unique Exchange Consulate, where humanity moves past our capitalist bullshit and the Exchange Counselors help ease the sector towards a post-scarcity society. Nope. It is always violence and some bullshit about how we will never innovate without money to drive us on.
Knowing the market forces at work in the sector is my first order of business. I stop at the Exchange Consulate first. Once I even helped them bombard a planet that had gone into arears on its debts and assumed the Terran Mandate would never come to help the sector’s toothless bank to collect.
I am sure there is something more satisfying than taking out a laser pistol and shooting a CEO of a predatory corporation who is profiting off human suffering. Maybe true love would be better or ascending our physical world and becoming a being of energy and light.
But I fucking doubt it.
The Preceptor Archive
is where information and history are stored and is important for not only understanding the context that the sector is currently operating in but for sending a full report back to Olde Earth.
We got into orbit and a nanite attack caused the battlecruiser to evaporate. I survived with a few others in an escape pod. When we buried the pod’s dead we made contact with locals. While we figured out each other’s language they understood the olde symbol for the Preceptor Archive. Had to walk halfway across a continent but you are damned right I did. It was a short journey to get to the library and wait out my extraction, ten years later.
The archive had been attacked and the whole moon it was built into was operating at about steam level technology. The rest of the sector just watched their archive fall apart. I wanted to drop old bombs on the lot of them.
Check out the book is slang for sleeping the archivist liaison. The competition is ferocious on the battlecruiser.
Where is the place to put a check when you uncover a dangerous alien threat or a planet where they lit everything on fire and ascended to a different dimension or when the whole sector is warring with such intensity that they didn’t even notice you?
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Ypsis Rho is a sector recently rocked by a nuclear war having decimated Hrefna, in the Hypsila System, the planet best situated to study and harness the cyclopean energy contained in the sector’s only black hole, XW 397186. The sector’s planets are blessed with breathable air; the planetologists who helped settle these planets are revered as science-saints.
On its best days, Hrefna was a frozen rock given atmosphere breathable to humans by a rare mix of invasive fungi, slugs and genetically modified bees bred to spread fungal spores. Shredded by a civil war, Hrefna is suffering from the fallout of a nuclear missile barrage after diplomatic solutions fell apart. Hrefni refugees have emigrated to planets and orbital settlements all over the sector, running from the radiation and soldiers who were selling their services in the Hrefna Civil War.
Valgerg, the Archipelago Planet, is a tropical paradise with remnants of Olde Earth technology so advanced none know their original purpose. What were once universities and science enclaves have become cults of science-priests and artifact prophets known collectively as the Holy Orders of Olde Earth (see Sociological Faction Guide below).
Valgerg was barely settled world, commonly thought of as such because the salvage freelancers looking for pretech made it a violent place. The Holy Orders are trying to change that, regulating how pre-tech is sought out and making it illegal to smuggle pre-tech artifacts off-planet without expensive export visas.
The storm planet has cyclopean obelisks along the equator and on the poles that seem to channel the storms that make the planet challenging to get on and off of. The Holy Orders of Olde Earth are trying to form a foothold on this planet as the storms have caused electromagnetic pulses, wreaking havoc on Manthyi’s technology and economy.
This planet is a kind of retreat, settled by a heretical sect of the Holy Orders who are seeking out a mass ascension, leaving this world by the hundreds of thousands to pursue an existence as beings of pure energy.
The asteroid field that surrounds the approach to Leaquidor are riddled with ancient mines from a war whose name and sides are no longer known. It is said the Leaquidor Ascension Heretics (see Sociological Factions below) activated the defenses so that they could achieve ascension without interruption or distraction from the rest of the sector’s petty concerns.
Just coming out of a decade long plague, Tejanes is in a state of despair looking at the state of the sector. The Tejanesiones Senate is engaged in intense debate about what they should be doing to solve the sector’s problems while corporations are profiting from the sector’s overall unrest, running refugee ships that sign the desperate passengers into unscrupulous indenture contracts and barely legal pre-tech salvage agreements.
A planet known for its aggressive cybernetic culture, recent laws have made it illegal to land on the planet and recruit its enhanced soldiers to fight but that has barely slowed the flow of mercenaries to conflicts all over the sector.
Rocket ships that are crude by modern standards launch daily so that awaiting orbital recruitment platforms can sign Astridanni cyborgs into the eagerly awaiting mercenary companies.
After the nuclear war on Hrefna, Halld cloaked itself from easy detection, making finding the planet difficult if not impossible. The planet’s atmosphere has rendered the population immortal and rather than share this amazing bounty with the rest of the sector, the Halldoni people have elected to hide their resources and leave the rest of the Sector to fend for itself.
Halldoni Navy ships, named for Olde Earth deities, patrol the Ias System and send anyone looking for the planet back the way they have come with any information that could make future navigation easier erased from their databases.
Having lost their navy in a conflict against Halld, Suranir Priddhi is now struggling to retain its status as an elite diplomatic corp and banking cartell in the sector.
Sociological Faction Guide
The Holy Orders of Olde Earth
This is a council made of dozens of organizations that take their inspirations from what we can remember of Olde Earth. They have turned toward protecting the artifacts not only on Valgerg but all over the Sector, spreading not only spiritualism and community but science and learning wherever they can.
Unlocks the Pre-tech Minefield of Leaquidor
Finds an ancient terran battlecruiser sent to put the sector back in control of Olde Earth oligarchs
The Tejanesiones Senate
The Senators of Tejanes are engaged in a debate about what action this planet should take. With its small but capable modern navy and solid science infrastructure it is in a unique position to change the fate of the sector. Refugees have been welcome here, though senators are being bought by the TCEA and drawing the debate out in bad faith.
Tejanes Navy spaceships are named after what is remember on earth, from natural resources (The Grand Canyon, Mount Killimanjaro or The Amazon Forest) for humanitarian ships to human-made marvels (The Great Wall, Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Giza) for ships made for war. Senators who declare a naval maneuver will often be deployed with the ship as a counselor to see the work their legislation achieves first-hand.
Navy is sent en masse to Hrefna to evacuate those suffering under nuclear blight
TCEA is declared a war criminal.
Tejanes Corporate Entities Alliances
With shareholders from all over the sector, the Corporate Entities are a brutal alliance looking to take control of as much of the sector as they can via war profiteering and crisis investing. From investing in weapons and munitions to refugee transportation and indenture, no profit is too low for the T.C.E.A.
T.C.E.A. gains a controlling share in the Airidanni Mercenary Compact and uses that leverage to take control of Tejanes via military corporate coup.
T.C.E.A. captures science that can harness energy of XW 397186, putting the sector under its thumb.
Leaquidor Ascension Heresy
Spiritual philsopher scientists who have claimed an isolated planet that is surrounded by ancient pre-tech mines left from a forgotten war. When something happens in the sector that cannot be easily explained, conspiracy theorists are quick to blame it on Leaquidor Heretics. Few Leaquidorans leave their planet. Much of the time, these conspiracy theories are false.
The heretics ascend, leaving this physical world for a dimension of pure energy and mathematics.
The heretics declare a holy war on those seeking to interfere on their ascension.
Airidanni Mercenary Compact
Together the mercenary companies of the A.M.C. are a formidable force, each coming to the aid of even the smallest company signed into their mutual defense compact. None of the colorfully named companies (The Red Wolves, the Screaming Kaiju, the Psychic Tigers, the Terran Ancients and many more) have gained an upper-hand over the others, making the A.M.C. a conglomerate of diverse mercenary companies. From the bodyguards to cyborg infantry to the most complicated company of dropships mechanized tank battalions they are united. Even as they fight and kill each other to fulfill their contracts, they will set aside rivalries to defend the other.
AMC ends the Hrefna Civil War by refusing to allow its soldiers to serve in the irradiated landscape.
AMC takes contract to break the Halldoni Blockade.
Isolationists who refuse to share the vast resources of their idyllic planet. The navy that guards the planet in what they call the Halldoni Blockade has no mercy towards trespassers. Those who try to find their way to Halld are referred to as “weeds in the garden” and are attacked without mercy.
Halldoni Terrorists strike against major powers seeking to sneak past their blockade.
Halld shares medicine with faction to show their good will.
Suranir Priddhi Mercantile Sibhood
The Suranir Priddhi Mercantile Sibhood are bankers and diplomats whose banking exchange can trace its lineage back to Olde Earth but now struggles against its own dramatic decline. Once a Priddhi Agent could quell a war or depose a dictator within days of landing on a planet but now their era is coming to a close.
The Suranir Priddhi Mercantile Sibhood finds reasonable rates and terms with Hrefna to offer them a sizeable loan to rebuild and de-radiate its planet.
The Sibhood puts in an order to rebuild its navy to regain its status in the Sector.
If we’re doing traditional Stars Without Number the players can start as a small mercenary company in the A.M.C. or a proud group of Suranir Priddhi agents, maybe even a group of sci-fi Jesuits in the Grid System’s volatile asteroid/mine field trying to unlock its secrets.
If we’re rocking out with Star Gods, let’s have these immortals zip into the system in a capital ship worthy of their pantheon and they can look at the map and ask their AI questions until they decide which planet they want to jump onto first.
The sector is about ready to roll. I’d fiddle with things as characters were made, fine-tune it to fit the Star Gods at hand a bit. Right now it is fine for a SWN game but I want a few more big things for a Star Gods game.
Godbound has a few cool tables. Let’s roll a few and see what inspirations shake loose.
We’ve got some ruined orbital stations and the dead ships around Usaus.
I get the following
Vault or Treasury of some Mighty Relic
Useful Ally who could be useful or reactivated
Interesting, Temporal Lock means the ruin is only accessible at a certain time (unless there is a Star God with the Time sphere). I’m thinking an old Hegemonic starship that went too close to the black hole and occasionally appears as it tries to break free of the event horizon’s brutal grip (Does that even make sense? I don’t know. Sounds cool).
There is a Star God-level entity aboard who was lost and they had an amazing weapon, a legendary blade made by the smiths of Gordie Pria…maybe they even got caught in the black hole’s pull trying to grab the blade after it was forged there.
That was fun. Let’s go again.
Fortress or Military installation
Valuable Map to treasure or lost ruin (rolled Useful Ally again and chose this one instead)
I’m thinking a capital ship Usaus, where bio-weapons blew up and left the ship a dangerous toxic mess. This ship was called in during the hegemon’s last days but before that it had guarded a research station that was dedicated to turning the Black Hole into a stargate.
Fun, let’s try an aristocratic court for one of our Alldish Noble Houses.
Court Mood: Decadent, obsessed with exotic pleasures
Major Actor: Honored General
Minor Actor: Foreign artist
Conflicts: Dispute over Heir
Consequences of Destruction: A much worse set of replacements are waiting
Love it. I’m thinking the foreign artist is a director who makes amazing movies about Olde Earth, painting ancient battles as current events. We’ve got an heir of an honored general and the general’s staff would be even worse if they took power.
I’ve got vague ideas about the General retiring after a century of war, becoming a saint-like demi-god. For some reason I’m picturing the general as George Washington – powdered wigs, Revolutionary War sabers and laser muskets.
I’d make up a Time Angel from the Black Hole as some kind of Parasite God.
Techno-undead in the ships floating above Usaus.
I want something keeping Kordie Pra’s quarantine, something that can take on several gods. Maybe a Nanite Cloud in low orbit that becomes a monster designed to destroy whatever attempts to get through. I’ll let that marinate.
If I was feeling it, I’d make up the factions using the SWN rules, though I might go with the looser Godbound faction rules, roll some dice, see how the factions are doing as the Star Gods step into the Sector.
These are warrior nomads who traverse the sector, either on merchant ships of their own make or as cosmonauts aboard other ships. They make frequent pilgrimages to the planets and research satellites surrounding the sector’s black hole, Mb 05561, though they refer to it as the Vantablack Mirror or the Holy Mirror.
Temporal Anomalies that surround Mb05561 are seen as holy visions and scientists who study the physics of the black hole are seen as science-prophets and granted tremendous respect.
Robot Union of Cymodec
Cymodecci synthetic engineering made self-aware robots more than two centuries ago and the robot union is dedicated to safeguarding their personhood and freedom.
These ancient posthuman entities were never meant to last forever and are nearing the end of their meticulously engineered existence. Existing somewhere between the physical realm and realms of pure energy, these posthumans guard ancient technology. The use of this technology was lost in the Scream.
Red Sand Settlers
(Alldish Warlord Noble House)
Said to be descendants of the first humans to leave Earth and settle on another planet, this noble house is known for having a brutal navy and unparalleled space marines.
Olde Earth Siblings
(Alldish Warlord Noble House)
A noble house led by warlords who claim to be descended from the boldest warriors-poets and philosophers of Earth’s history. The genetic science is hazy myth and propaganda carefully engineered to bolster their claims.
Alldish Soldiers Minor
(Alldish Warlord Noble House)
Veterans of this decades long war who either saw the ugly side of Red Sand Settlers and Old Earth Siblings or wanted to forge their own path because they realized there was only so high they could rise have formed their own houses. They are a shifting mess of alliances and betrayals.
Alright, next step is to use Temple Courts and Ruin tables from Godbound to build a few cool things and think about some big cosmic monsters might be feeding around the black hole and some giant robots that Alldish Warlords might be using in their neverending war.
Let’s think about the planets a bit, not all of them, just a few that jump out.
Tags: Eugenic Cults, Mercenaries
Alld is being warred over by local warlords who keep mercenary armies in their thrall. The warlords are powerful, as powerful as a mortal human can be, some even moreso. They believe this power comes from breeding and bloodlines but it is from ancient nanites that they don’t understand.
Alld is gripped in a cold war with flare-ups from time to time. Hot war is reserved for Papadoudo.
Tags: Forbidden Tech, Local Hegemon
Once this was the seat of the sector’s ruling government but instability from the Black Hole decimated their technology. With their computers and navy decimated, the planet is a once-proud shadow of its glory. Without the Usausian Navy to regulate, Alldish Warlords have run rampant throughout the sector. Remnants of their navy still orbit the planet, filled with the dead sailors floating within.
Forbidden Tech, though! Maybe it wasn’t the unstable Black Hole. Maybe there is an AI behind this and that is what caused the tech level breakdown, taking eyes off of this planet.
Tags: Local Tech, Quarantined World
I love that it is quarantined and has a local specialty. The local specialty is definitely a weapon, somehow forged in the nearby Black Hole. Ancient Defense Satellites destroy ships that try to land. They sealed themselves off when Usaus fell.
I imagine Alldish Warlords trying to get to Kordie Pria’s surface, with myths of whichever Warlord gains a Kordie Pria-made blade will be the Sector Hegemon with the power to spread to other sectors and become an emperor.
Tags: Dying Race, Pretech Cultists
Ancient post-humans guarding technology they no longer understand. Debrans know they have lost their legacy and hope to gain it back or hand it off to someone worthy before they go extinct.
Tags: Cyclical Doom, Battleground
This is where the Alldish Warlords fight their most brutal battles, leaving the planet a wreckage as dropships and battle-mechs rain down on the surface. Centuries of experimental weapons have triggered a doom that has come before that will leave the planet without life. None of the warlords want to evacuate, not wanting to give their rivals any ground.
Factions are coming together.
I need a few Alldish Warlords noble houses linked to broken understandings of Olde Earth, like shitty whyte supremacists appropriation of Norse icons. The ancient, sad Debran Tech-Priests who are falling into extinction. Usuali rangers who have the sector’s governmental history in their hands but not the tech to govern.
And still, the aliens who are watching, studying these humans.
I’d flesh out the factions just a touch more. Sectors Without Number has really fun tools for making and recording factions. I’d write down a few before play and then get to it.
Next week I might grab a few tables from Godbound and see if I can jar loose some ideas, fleshing out courts and ruins for our Star Gods to explore.
During chargen we figure out what Star Gods actually are and how we’re setting the Space Magic dial. Spells from ancient satellites? Bene Gesserit weirding way or Jedi mystic mind control? Click. Set.
Was a holy order seeded here, missionaria protectiva style, ready to support the Star Gods when they arrived, as prophesied?
Do they arrive in a space ark capital ship or a comet or do they appear through humanity’s dreams or collective unconscious or are they born with this seed of divinity hidden in them by their ancestors? Maybe the Scream also killed all of the Star Gods or drove them into a deep slumber. We’ll suss that out together as we make up our sci-fi pantheon.
Next I’d go to Sectors Without Number and make up as small a sector as I can. Right now that is 5×5. Cool, that is a nice mini-campaign. I’d sit down with the notes and daydream with a pen in my hand.
The Star Gods are there to get this sector in order. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it means taking over. Maybe it means establishing temples. Maybe it means linking the governments to Olde Earth. Depends on the Star Gods. Maybe it means blessing a few visionaries and then leaving. Players decide when to move on.
Once they have this sector in hand or in a state that the players are happy with or they are just ready to move on, they begin constructing a stargate to the next sector and we do it again.
Thinking about Circe Theta
Fun stuff here in Circe Theta.
Lots of alien research bases studying humans. Alien Star Gods? But of course.
Black Holes are always fun. Astra is a doomed world right next to the Black Hole and the Black Hole’s other neighbor is home to a dying race. There’s a cyclical doom tag on Papadoudo. Lots of doom all around this singularity. Something to think about.
I’d want to zoom in and out, with both details about the world along with larger than life science fiction space opera threats for the Star Gods to deal with. Alien star gods watching from a distance, a Black Hole spewing doom along with the fun tags will offer more than enough inspirations for factions.
I’ve been toying with Canva.com a bunch while in isolation and always loved John Harper’s creation, RAZORNET for Stars Without Number games – a site where far-future freelancers on the edge of legality can find work.
After seeing the crime gig app in this season of Westworld I decided to make a RAZORNET thing as a fun exercise.
Thanks to John Harper who let me play with his toy, RAZORNET.