The Free League: the ennui of perfection

In the last post I wrote about the Consortium, one of the few factions that we had not shined the spotlight on,in the podcast, because as Dave memorably admitted on the Patron discord he’s “not very interested in them.” I agreed in the last episode that the Consortium was indeed quite boring, but The Free League has a different problem.The Free League’s problem is that they are the perfect player faction. Too perfect.

©️Fria Ligan

What every crew wants is freedom … freedom to go where they want. Freedom to do what they want. Freedom to make profit on jobs, legal and illegal. Freedom to leave a system when a deal goes wrong and they are wanted for murder. Freedom to find a new planet full of rubes they can double-cross. And Freedom to move on again when it turns out the local crime-lord wants them dead. Freedom, essentially, to live like space RPGers have lived since the first Traveller player rolled 2d6 and wrote their stats in hexadecimal…

And if you are going to be a happy crew of malcontents trading their way from system to system, the Free League is the perfect support network. At least from a gamers’ perspective, if not the characters. They are strong when the players really need help, and weak when the GM wants to take the crutch away. They are connected right across the Horizon, if the players need a job or a contact, yet not so consistent that the GM can’t surprise the players once in a while. If I were a GM taking a virgin group of players on, I would probably recommend that they choose a Free League patron to get them started. And the beauty of the Free League, is I could likely offer them a Nemisis from the same faction, to show that everything ain’t black and white. Indeed if a GM said to me “I have never run a space game at all, what are my players likely to want?” I would probably reply that they should start with a short Free League based campaign. They are a perfect set of training wheels for crews and GMs.

So what’s the problem? How come it’s taken so long to write about them? The problem is that there is no challenge for the GM. An experienced GM will be excited if their players choose to be religious zealots, or secret assassins, each would be a new challenge. But if they want to be Free Leaguers, again, where can a GM find the novelty?
One of the great things about the third horizon is that everything contains its own contradiction. So let’s go to the source material and see if we can find the hidden side of the Free League…

The first thing to remember is that the Free League are a Zenithian, not a Firstcome faction. They are listed alongside the Syndicate as one of the smallest Zenithian Factions ( p 188) and yet … and yet … on page 194 it says “counting official members, the Free League is the Horizon’s largest faction.” This is an interesting contradiction. It speaks I think of a membership not wholly affiliated to the cause of the faction. People join like they join the AA, or the triple A, or whatever your local roadside recovery insurance service is where you live. Thus being a member of this large organisation can help get your ship repaired on a distant backwater planet. But on Coriolis, the seat of power, there are too few powerful members to do much politically. And get this, tucked away in the timeline on page 249 is this little gem: in cc 14 “The Free League faction is founded as a partner to the Consortium.” Partners? Or lapdogs? Free? Or simply another arm of the Consortium? Extending their reach into the smaller markets that the Companies of the consortium are not yet interested in?

On the other hand, are they a Union? It only costs Br100/cycle to join. The Stevedors of Coriolis and the Net exert some power through the free league. Is the Free League getting ready to be the workers champion, and turn against the Consortium as the growth of that faction stutters and begins to fail. Will the Free League become a monster that Comsortium can no longer control? Will they one day be accused or being a terrorist organisation? After all, the Syndicate too, exert power through the Free League. Though the highest placed factionary Jesibel Niales is on to them, and working to curb their influence.

Finally, there is one little hook I really like and that’s the mention of “the Free League’s News Division.” (On page 21) Last time I talked about how the Bulletin, controlled by the Consortium was not the organisation that players wanting to be hard hitting reporters should join. The Free League might offer an outlet for independent journalists eager to seek out the truth rather than regurgitate propaganda.

Beyond Boring: The Consortium

Listener and Patron Nicjar set us an interesting challenge. He has been going though our blogs cataloging all our Coriolis related articles. And he pointed out that we have not done an article on all the Factions in the Third Horizon. I said that I remembered mentioning to Dave that we still had some to to do, but that he had assured me we had done them all. Dave replied that we had done them all… all the interesting ones at least.

The Council of Factions, dominated by the Consortium ©️Free League

And he was right. The only two we had not done (properly) were the Free League and the Consortium. Dave does argue that he covered them in his piece on trade, but not in the depth that we covered most of the others. So I took it upon myself to deal with the Consortium. And immediately regretted it. Because the Consortium are so damn boring.
And they are boring because they are so pervasive. They are the Third Horizon. They are the government, the administration, the bureaucrats. They are the winners, the glue that bound the horizon together and made Coriolis its centre.


As it says on page 190 of the core book, “the Consortium and the Coriolis station are one – so closely tied together that most people in the Horizon can’t tell them apart.” That’s the problem, and not just on Coriolis station. Asking me to get excited about the consortium is like asking a fish to get excited about water.


But let’s give it a go. The Consortium is created from and largely controlled by families from the Zenith. Not the ones who became the Zenithian Hegemony though. These families are known as the Neo-Zenithians, more willling to work alongside and integrate with the Firstcome. So they are not racists, which is good. And good guys are never boring, are they?


Being less interested in bloodlines than their Hegemonic rivals, the Consortium claim to wield power though corporations, rather than dynasties. Though of course the same family names crop up again and again as directors of and major shareholders in the corporations. But here is a pop quiz for you: name four Consortium affiliated corporations. Go on.

Don’t worry, take all the time you need.



You can’t can you?

Well let me help. There is the Parr bio-sculpted food company, and the weapons manufacturers Xoar, Dayal, Tilides, Vulcanor, and Parr-Nestara? Ringing any bells?

Exeter? They offer cruises and tourism, apparently. Advanced manufacturing and research is the purview of those household names Celer-Delekta and Nyala. Alkarra make spaceships, but does any PC group actually fly an Alkarra spacecraft? And if they do, do they even care? Oh, and let’s not forget the first name in gravitics, Nomo!

One could maybe build an adventure around industrial espionage, or illegal research, but none of these companies are Weyland Yutani, let’s face it.

Actually there are three Consortium Corporations your players have heard of, but only one feels like an actual corporation, and that’s The Bulletin, the Horizon-wide communications and media company. The other two are the Foundation which I guess is a corporation in the old fashioned sense, like any university, but with its public interest education a research mission, it does not quite feel like a company. The other even has a word in its name that suggests it isn’t a corporation at all, but rather a quasi-governmental organisation, and that’s the Colonial Agency.

What’s important about these three corporations is that they each have a seat on the Council of Factions, ensuring the Consortium’s heavy influence on that body, but also, possibly making them almost factions in their own right.

Playable factions? I am not sure. While it’s interesting the think that the Faction Standing talent might make you a mover and shaker in the Bulletin, Foundation or the Agency. It’s only the latter two that, to my mind, hold any potential fun for players. While you might enjoy the concept of a investigative journalist reporting for the Bulletin, who should remember that the Bulletin is a mouthpiece of the establishment. A media organisation that does not speak thrush to power as the fourth estate should, but lies to the people on behalf of the Council. And no you are not going to crush it from the inside, because it controls not must the message but the means of communication, the relay stations and probes that communicate across portals. No, any journalism campaign has god to be about underground publications and pirate channels … not being the media lap-dogs of the state. At a push … it might be fun to play a team whose job it is to cover up for mysterious incidents, and make up mundane stories that explain away strange happenings… but it would be a push. And, that seems to better suit the Colonial Agency, really…

A Foundation campaign or adventure might be fun… investigating portal builder archeology like a space Indiana Jones, but the agents of the Hegemony fill in for the Nazis could work.

And then there is the Colonial Agency … who many Firstcome might consider to be as bad as the Zenithian Hegemony anyhow. If you want to play colonists, making a life for themselves in a hostile environment, and learning to get along with the natives (and importantly – you really don’t want to play the Alien RPG), then the agency might be the way to go. Or you could play the Agency as a sort of mixed up Starfleet in a Star Trek style mission to explore strange new worlds. The only problem is there are not many new worlds left to explore.

Which brings us I think to the best opportunity for role playing in the consortium. That lies in the phrase at the top of the core books’ entry on the Consortium: “Expansion is life”.

The secret of making the the Consortium interesting lies in it’s antithesis. Expansion is slowing to a halt. If the Consortium can no longer grow, it faces an inevitable decline into entropy and death. There is a great group concept in the idea that the PC s are the good guys, defending the Consortium and everything it has built from the forces of evil, which includes pretty much everyone else: uppity Firstcome, Hegemonic Nazis, religious fundamentalists from Zalos, piratical Free Leaguers and Nomads. Never mind spoilers from beyond the horizon!

If the players can get invested in the idea that the a Consortium is a force for good, excusing the occasional mistakes that the Colonial Agency has made on the way, if they can appreciate the Horizon as we know it is a delicate construction of the a Consortium, which could crumble at any moment, if not for their diligent efforts, then at last, the Consortium becomes … interesting.

The Song to the Siren podcast is complete

Tiny figures approach a huge old spaceship, like the three petals of an upturned snowdrop
Approaching the Siren ©️ John Salquist

Last week Effekt published the last part of our Coriolis actual play, but given that it was recorded in two sessions a year apart and released in five episodes a year ago, and another four more recently, I though it might be worth posting links to all the episodes, on order, to help new listeners find them more easily.

Part 1 – Arrival https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-part-1-arrival

Part 2 – Trade https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-part-2-trade

Part 3 – Club https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-part-3-club

Part 4 – Qadim https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-part-4-qadim

Part 5 – Siren https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-part-5-siren

Part 6 – Intervention https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-intervention

Part 7 – Persuasion https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/siren-persuasion

Part 8 – Córdoba https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/cordoba

Part 9 – Ascent https://www.effektpodcast.org/episodes/song-to-the-siren-ascent

Córdoba and the residents of Salvagetown

Córdoba ©️Effekt/Tom Tyler-Jones

In episode eight of Song to the Siren, our Coriolis actual play, Yaphet and Salah confronted Córdoba, the “cannibal king” of Salvagetown. To be honest, I don’t think we heard enough about him in the AP, so as I am writing the adventure in full for the forthcoming Free League Workshop, I thought I might share some of that write-up, here, so that anyone who is interested can see what how I had intended him to be played, even if my players “turned left” (with an excellent shiv in the eye way back in episode one).

Córdoba

  • Strength 5
  • Agility 4
  • Wits 4
  • Empathy 2

Skills: Melee combat 4; Survival 2; Medicurgy 1; Culture 1

Reputation (as the “cannibal king” of this prison colony) 6

Talents: Hardened Epidermis; Executioner; The Judges Talent.

Equipment:

Cleaver (Bonus +1, Init 0; Damage 2, Crit 2; Range Close; Light; Tech P.)

Wheeled motorbike (Bonus +1, HP 6, MR 15, Armor 0; Passengers 1, Fuel Hydrogen; Tech P.)

The head man of the Salvagetown “community” is Córdoba. He is big. Indeed, he is the “biggest guy in the yard,” who some players may choose to fight in the hope of asserting their violent credentials among the other prisoners.

Córdoba is not just big, he is in shape, and his skin has the reddish tone of a humanite with the Hardened Epidermis Talent. His physical abilities give him a confidence which can seen in the slow, casual way in which he approaches everyone he talks to or prepares to fight. He prefers to fight unarmed, but does carry a meat clever which, if he is pressed he in not adverse to using it in combat.

His preferred use of the cleaver is what gives him his fearsome reputation. He eats people. He is an adherent of some remnant of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice, the long outlawed, and mostly eradicated worshipers of the Beast. In his warped morality, he sees nothing wrong in this harsh environment, in feeding not just himself, but his community too, on the flesh of the weak.

Salvagetown is situated on the edge of the desert dropzone known as Harvest for a reason. Córdoba and followers are always first to arrive when a new consignment of prisoners makes planetfall. The new arrivals are usually battered and dazed by their decent, and easy prey for the harvesters and their dury-rigged Stunsticks. Swiftly incapacitated and bound they are taken back to Salvagetown as chattels . Their ration bars and water are of course all confiscated, of course, to be added the the communal stock. Some arrivals see what’s happing and run away. Neither Córdoba, nor his Harvesters will chase them far. Some will die in the desert, others will come crawling back, and the few that make it to Club Topeka are of no concern. Indeed their they might make the produce that Córdoba occasionally trades for.

Those that put up a fight just might avoid the cleaver. Córdoba is impressed by strength. He will allow any arrival who fights one of the Harvesters to try and challenge himself too. And even if defeated, anyone who puts up a spirited fight is inducted as a Harvester.

Those who don’t make the grade, the chattels, are not slaughtered, but rather eaten piecemeal. Kept tied, Córdoba will remove an arm or leg first, cauterising the wounds against infection. If they seem submissive, they may be allowed some freedom, to move about Salvagetown, and through work, earn the right to eat. Córdoba is no fool though, and will chop more limbs off troublemakers, and finally cook their offal too. Eat the whole beast is his motto.

The motto applies in a way to everything that lands on Harvest. Once the prisoners themselves are rounded up, the Harvesters return to collect the landing pods themselves. Back in Salvagetown they, and some paraplegic chattels set to break them up for raw materials, trading parts, and making these equipment they need to sustain their way of life.

Córdoba’s motivations are simple: the survival of his community, and the display of strength. Submit to him and you will be looked after, either as a harvester or as a chattel/slave.

Typical Harvester

  • Strength 3
  • Agility 4
  • Wits 3
  • Empathy 3

Skills: Melee combat 3; Dexterity 2; Survival 1

Equipment:

Improvised Stunstick (Bonus +1, Init 0; Damage 1, Crit: Stun; Range Close; stun , cel powered ; Tech 0.)

Harvesters are driven by loyalty to Córdoba and the desire not to be eaten

Harvester Combi

The Harvesters drive solar powered scratch built vehicles to go about their gruesome task in the scrubby desert of Harvest. Consisting of a small cab at the front and a platform at the back, partly shaded by the photoelectric panel that powers the motor. They have a battery of sorts but quickly run out of power after sundown, only viable modes of transport in daylight.

Bonus 0, HP 4, MR 11, Armor 0; Passengers 3 (plus whatever you can fit on the platform – maybe six hogtied prisoners?) Fuel solar; Tech P.

Typical Chattel

  • Strength 2
  • Agility 1
  • Wits 4
  • Empathy 2

Skills: Survival 3; Technology 2; Manipulation 1

Chattels have little drive, a lot of apathy and are motivated by fear.

The Emissaries

This is a transcript of my piece in Episode 97 of our podcast, on The Emissaries. It reveals spoilers for the Mercy of the Icons campaign, if you are a player and don’t want to be spoiled, read no further.

Art©️FreeLeague/Gustav Ekland

If you can level one criticism at the Core book in Coriolis, it’s that it teases you with, seemingly, a million snippets of lore that it doesn’t explain fully. Most of these are fine, I have imagination enough to make something up, and indeed some of those snippets have provided inspiration for pieces on this very podcast.

But one bit of lore left me, and I expect, a lot of other readers very confused. Who, or what, were the Emissaries? In this piece I am going to answer that question, drawing exclusively from the published books, not adding any of my own ideas. The first we read of the Emissaries is in an extract of THE REALM OF THE ICONS – A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE THIRD HORIZON by Kaldana Mourir, quoted on page seven:

“Zenith heralded the dawn of a new era – and the Horizon blossomed once again. Three dozen star systems, linked by fate and by the will of the Icons, wandered together towards a brighter future. But as the Emissaries arrived, the happy days drew to a close, and the Dark between the Stars slowly came creeping back.”

The Emissaries are a BAD THING then, or at least they are in the eyes of Mourir, who is obviously a Zenithian apologist. Perhaps the Firstcome see them as allies? Perhaps not, because on page 13:

From the depths of the gas giant Xene rose the faceless Emissaries. Spectres from another world, Icons or Portal Builders? The theories about their origins are many. The Emissaries demanded a seat at the Council – and got one. One of the Emissaries claimed itself an incarnation of the Icon the Judge, to which the Order of the Pariah cried “sacrilege!” and closed their home system to all travel. A new age of shadows and suspicion has dawned, and the peoples of the Horizon all wonder: what is the true agenda of the Emissaries?

I think it was at this point, with their description as “faceless” that I started to imagine them as the Vorlons from the TV show, Babylon Five. On page 184 they are described as “ghosts from another world.” And, indeed on page 240 is says “often described as either spirits or spectral phenomena”. Often described? So, rarely actually seen it seems. And mostly spoken about in rumour. We are not even sure how many there are: “rumors claim that there are really nine altogether and that the Foundation and the Consortium are hiding the truth.”

But we know about only five of them, three of whom are out and about, location unknown, ready to meet your adventures whenever time, and story are right. This I like, we don’t need to pin them to a place your players might never choose to visit. One remains on the Foundation station orbiting Xene, now a place of pilgrimage, because that one claims to be the icon the Judge. The fifth is on Coriolis itself, as a (non-voting) member of the council. And one has to ask, what power do they have that one can “demand a seat on the Council”, and get it?

Talking of powers, we also know that people only started manifesting mystic powers when the Emissaries appeared. Obviously the two phenomena are connected, but how?

Moving on to the Atlas compendium, the back cover teases “the true nature of the mysterious Emissaries [has] only been myth to the common people of the Third Horizon – until now.” But does it really deliver?

It does explain the war between the Terran Empire of Ardha, and the Symmetry of the Second Horizon, which is known in our Third Horizon, of strategic value to both sides, as the Portal Wars. It also describes (on page 23) nodes: “A node can create a mystical and physical link between systems in a fashion that falls outside of the technology and methods used by the Portal Builders.” Nodes were created and destroyed during the portal wars as the First and Second horizons used the Third to attack each other. Eventually most were destroyed. But one survives on Xene, a weak point in the Second Horizon’s defences.

On page 25, the Compendium describes how, when a prospector ship made an emergency landing on Xene, mystics of the Second Horizon possessed the crew. Or tried to at least. Only one crew member was successfully taken over, with the mystic in the Second Horizon managing to retain her identity as she took over her host. That one is the one that now sits as an observer on the council. The other four (or eight?) were affected to varying degrees by the Darkness between the Stars.

So, not Vorlons after all, or Faceless, or even “described as […] spirits or spectral phenomena”- they look human it seems… except … in the book Coriolis: The Art of the Third Horizon there is an image captioned, The Spirit of the Emissary. It shows a cloud of fractal light and darkness above a writhing human on an altar or bed, so perhaps some people can see the Emissary as a spectral phenomenon in certain circumstances.

Most people can’t though, because we can witness actual possession if we play A Song For Jarouma, from Emissary Lost (page 228): “Mid-argument, or on their way to the next installation, a person believed to be dead or dying suddenly comes to life. With a spasmodic jerk and a terrifying scream, the team member tumbles onto the floor. Then, equally suddenly, they stop spasming, and stand up slowly. Looking around, they nod and blink, confused. They look like they are uncertain of their whereabouts (the person has been taken over by an Emissary.)” No mention of fractal clouds there. In that adventure we create the true story behind that prospector ship making an emergency landing. (It turns out not to be prospectors, and not quite the sort of emergency that the Atlas Compendium suggested.)

Emissary Lost has more to divulge about the Emissaries. It turns out they are Santulans, the highest ranking mystics in the Second Horizon. They introduce themselves to the people of the Third Horizon as “The Light of Peace” but whether they are remains to be seen.

Lingua Zenithia

Art ©️ FreeLeague/Gustav Ekland

*Update* I published this early because of a discussion on Facebook, and to get it out quickly, I didn’t do my usual check through the “primary source” – the published books. Preparing this for recording, I have now added references in.

Zeni is uncommon on Sadaal. The language is growing slowly on Bahram, but the indigenous tongues still dominate in Alburz. Priests and diplomats claim not to understand a word of Zeni and use translators in all meetings with foreigners. (Atlas Compendium page 17)

I am not generally a fan of language skills (or lack of them) getting in the way of fun roleplaying. But I appreciate the point of view of players who might be inspired by the cultural history of the Third Horizon to play with language difficulties. The core rulebook makes a number of references to the diverse languages of the Third Horizon, but apart from providing a couple of technological workarounds (such as the Language Unit on Page 109 and the cybernetic Language Modulator on Page 75), doesn’t offer much mechanically to emulate the complexity of communication. If I had a group of players eager to be explorers, traders in exotic goods, or missionaries, and turned on by the difficulties of communicating in the Third Horizon, I’d house rule it like this:

Zeni is the common tongue

“The language of the Zenithians, Zeni, has grown into the lingua franca of the Horizon today, as trade and commerce are dominated by the Zenithians. Most travelers (and PCs) speak Zeni in addition to their native tongues” (page 223). A closed community traveling for generations to the Horizon, would have a strong shared language. The work the Zenithians did in opening up the portals and bringing together Firstcome communities who had cut themselves off from one-another puts them in the place of colonial Britain, spreading English around the world and replacing French as the Lingua Franca. Even if what results in some places is a Patois like Singlish in Singapore, there will be enough Zenithian words in the dialect that even the least educated Plebeian can make themselves understood.

I am not ruling out the idea that different Zenithian families might have preserved their own language, or that the sleepers on the Zenith might have struggled to learn the Zenithian that evolved during the centuries of the voyage. But those are complexities that I am not going to get into here. Maybe in the future sometime, if I have a campaign based around the politics within the Zenithian Hegemony, there will be an opportunity to get into the nitty gritty. Speaking of the Hegemony, you just know they have a Language Institute defining Zeni grammar and vocabulary, and ineffectively banning words borrowed from Firstcome languages.

How many languages are there?

All Zenithians speak Zeni, and all Firstcome speak their native language and Zenithian. These are the base languages for every PC. Yes, this puts Firstcome characters at a slight advantage, but I don’t care. If you really do care, how about this? Only Privileged Firstcome speak Zeni like a Zenithian, Stationaries take a -1 modifier when rolling to, for example, manipulate a Zenithian of equal reputation, and plebeians a -2.

What IS their native language? Whatever the player thinks fits their character. A number are mention in book, including: Dabari; Miri; Kuan; Algolan; and, Zalosi. And we know that the Nomad tribes have enough different languages to make presenting themselves as a single faction to the political structures of the Third Horizon very … confusing.

One imagines that the Order of the Pariah have ensured there is only one Zalosi language, and everything else spoken in that system is heresy, but you can also imagine the heretics of Zalos B have also stamped out every language other than their TruZalosi. I like to think the planets of the Third Horizon are not monocultures, and that each has developed a variety of linguistic communities. But just how detailed your players want to go is up to each table to decide. If your native community is a particular forest of Labuan you could say that tribe’s dialect is your native language, but you might prefer to say you speak “Labuanese”. And let’s not forget the languages of the semi-intelligent – the ekilibri and the nekatra on Kua and the skavara on Amedo.

Cultured Linguists

“Ameda from Amedo is perhaps the most popular artist in [Tattoo] alley. She is well traveled, [and] speaks several languages” (page 256). In a multilingual Horizon, your PCs will have the opportunity to speak more than one language, but how many? A simple house rule I’d use to manage this would be that you can speak as many exotic languages fluently as you have points in Culture. Thus a Zenithian with three points in culture can speak a total of four languages: Zeni and three others. A Firstcome with three points can speak five: their native language; Zeni and three others.

I would recommend that players don’t pick which Languages they speak at character creation (though a Zenithian player character choosing to speak TruZalosi at creation is that player lobbying the GM for an adventure set on Zalos B, surely). Rather, when the party encounter an exotic language, any player with an unassigned culture point and a decent reason why they might speak it should claim to right to be translator for the party.

If none of the party have unassigned languages, or a technological solution, then it’s up to those with Culture to make a roll with any modification the GM chooses, every time they need to make themselves understood.

The crew

People listening to our most recent Coriolis Actual Play may have picked up on a few “references” – from a start, and a bad guy, inspired by the movie The Bad Batch, through scavengers modelled after Steptoe and Son (which our American listeners may know better as Sanford and Son) to a wrecked ship absolutely and openly based on the Liberator from Blakes 7

But when it came to the creatures infesting that ruined ship, it was the Coriolis rulebook I turned to. I didn’t really find what I was looking for, but I did find some inspiration. And this is the story of how I riffed on that inspiration, fudged the details, and tested my half-formed ideas in play. 

The inspiration came from a creature that was almost what I wanted: “The darkbound are regular people that are somehow claimed by the Dark between the stars.”

Until that point, I hadn’t decided whether the creatures I wanted were native to the planet, creatures of the Darkness, or as suggested here, fellow prisoners who were somehow changed. And given that the adventure is partly about how prisoners are changed by exile, it struck me, on reading about the Darkbound, it was suddenly obvious that my creatures should be changed prisoners. The description for the darkbound seemed perfect too, looking “like a thin and twisted human, with only a few torn patches of hair left, and with burning eyes and long claws instead of fingers.”

But the real inspiration came from their mystic power. They only have one – well, arguably they have a couple but more on that later. The only power which is most actually described mechanically is NIGHT VEIL. I won’t quote it here  but in short, it is a mental attack. It does not deal out mind-point damage, but it does make it difficult to think , with a -2 modifier on roles for observation, advanced skills and initiative. Now, I didn’t actually use that attack per se, but the idea suddenly made sense of what my creatures were, how they came to be, and the nature of the AI, Qadim, and the ship itself. 

Fans of Blake’s 7 may remember the ship’s computer, Zen.  When I started planning my adventure, I imagined an advanced AI like Zen, having been ripped out of its ship, enlisting the PCs to get him fitted back back in. The Darkbound’s mystic power unlocked a deluge of different, better, ideas. 

What if the relationship between Qadim and the ship was more complex? What if Qadim was the rational thinking part of the ship, the ego? And when it was ripped out what was left behind was the id, the instinctive, feeling part? What if both parts of the ship were damaged by the separation? Qadim can calculate and communicate but it can’t really understand the humans it works with because it has to fake empathy.  I’m going to say it’s autistic, while recognising that’s a massive oversimplification of a complex condition. 

Meanwhile, the ship, which Dave called Starsinger, but I am going to call Siren, can feel, and emote, it can run subroutines, and try to repair itself but it can’t really communicate. It moans, it sings it’s despair.  And it’s that which makes it difficult to think. It’s not a mystic attack at all – the longer you spend in the ship, the closer you get to where Qadim had been ripped out, the harder it becomes to make a wits roll. Mechanically I ran this as a -2 penalty to any wits based skill roll when they were in the chamber which is equivalent to the bridge (but I think I’d recommend doing it slightly differently in future). 

So these creatures are not the perpetrators of the mind-dimming effect, but it’s victims. Previous salvagers who spent too long in the vessel, and literally lost their wits. It’s more than that though, they have been transformed in other ways by prolonged exposure to the song of the Siren. They have become automata, part of the ship’s systems. I wanted the alien technology to feel properly alien, unknowable. I wanted it to be composed of strange sealed units that would be absolutely baffling to my engineer. So I imagined these creatures bodies were so changed by the influence of the Siren, long longer eating, sustained only by the song, that they are almost etherial, they can reach into the strange machinery of the ship to maintain and operate it.

They also needed to be a threat to the PCs though, and I had stolen their only mystic power to use as a more general effect. Well, I say it is their only power, and if you look at their stat-block, it is the only one listed. But the description mentions a couple of others, they “move incredibly fast, closing in on their victims in the blink of an eye to sink their claws into them.” And “Just the touch of a dark-bound can paralyze someone completely.” So I treated their touch like a paralysing poison, activating it not on “just the touch”, but when they actually do damage to a PC. 

I didn’t want them to be too aggressive though, so I wanted some sort of trigger for an attack. Thinking back to the separation of Qadim’s ego from the Siren’s id, I decided that they would only attack when a PC would try to reason with them, talk to them, so unused were they to communicating in anything other than the raw emotion of The Siren. I liked the idea that they might now be integral to the operation of the ship, and that, if they manage to get off planet in the Siren, the PCs would have to put up with them scuttling around and also remember not to talk whenever they were nearby. 

So I was done. However testing them in the play, I decided that, for our ill- equipped adventurers, the paralysis power could be … not dangerous, exactly, but not fun. Combined with their natural speed I saw that it could easily create a situation where the whole party was paralysed, and though they might not be dead (why would the creatures kill them if they were quiet) it might be a very frustrating experience. And the scenario was already frustrating enough. So I am thinking instead about a mystic power which, for the cost of a darkness point, allows them to ignore the effects of PC armour (and maybe, for another DP, makes it easy for them to inflict unarmed crits). 

Finally I needed a name, because I feel these creatures are now quite different from the Darkbound that inspired them. I have called them Aabdel’rd, a corruption of an Arabic word that means, simply, crew. 

Democracy in Action

A few weeks ago after episode 2.6 we ran a poll (or three) on whether we should play (and record) Coriolis or Forbidden Lands. We don’t play on line, and we don’t get together often, less than once a month, to play around a table. Given that we have traditionally taken turns GMing, it means that we might only play a couple of sessions on each game a year. Dave is running Symbaroum, Tony runs L5R, Andy, Savage World of Solomon Kane, so this poll has been about what I run. We are all enjoying both games, so this is a real quandary.

So, we asked our listeners. I put a poll on Facebook, Twitter and G+. It’s interesting to see how differently each “constituency” (users of each social platform reacted).

I put the poll on all three platforms in the same day. People responded quickly to the ones on Twitter and G+, less quickly to Facebook. I automatically shared my poll post on G+ with the Coriolis and Forbidden Lands groups, but I didn’t think to do that at first on Facebook. When I noticed how low the response rate was on Facebook, I shared it with each game’s group and the respondents came – in the end Facebook returned the most answers.

Twitter responses started well, outpacing Facebook on the first day, but in the end returned the fewest responses. You can set how long the poll lasts on Twitter and Facebook. For Twitter I thought it wouldn’t not last long, and set it for three days. I might as well have set it for one day though, given the nature of Twitter, most responded on the first day, I might have got a couple more on day two. Nothing in three.

As you can see nine people voted Forbidden Lands, six Coriolis. A win for Forbidden Lands it seems. But Twitter is our smallest constituency. Let look the next largest. G+ doesn’t let you set a time for polls. To end it, you just delete the post. Which isn’t very satisfactory – people can’t check if I am telling the truth about what the vote was. I would write to Google to tell them to fix it, if they weren’t shuttering the whole thing. Anyhow, the G+ poll lasted over a week. And saw the scales tipping one way, and then the other before:

The G+ poll was the last to close, and before I finally deleted the post I took this screen grab. Thirty two votes for each game. The G+ constituency was just as divided as we were.

And so we turn to Facebook. I already mentioned that, in the end, the Facebook constituency returned the most votes, enough to tilt the scales back in the Coriolis direction, or was Facebook too more balanced?

97 votes, and another small but clear majority for Forbidden Lands.

So Forbidden Lands is the clear winner. It’s also interesting to note that the Forbidden Lands AP episode that we released a month or two ago, are already becoming out most popular downloads. Session Zero, for example, is already our sixth most downloaded episode ever. So the next game I will run in the new year will be Forbidden Lands. We won’t forget Coriolis though, in fact the next AP to be released will be our Coriolis adventure Song to the Siren, which we recorded back in November, just as soon as I get round to editing it.

So in conclusion: this is what we are expecting to put out over the next few weeks

  • This week: The fifth and final episode of our current Symbaroum adventure Troubled Spirits
  • Next week: Episode 2.7 of The Coriolis Effect, with reports and interviews from Dragonmeet
  • Then: weekly releases of only our second Coriolis AP. The crew find themselves marooned on a prison planet in Song to the Siren
  • After Christmas more The Coriolis Effect, and from Dragonmeet, The Grindbone Slave Tournament

The Draconites

Last episode, we speculated that the Draconites knew what dreadful racists the Zenithian Hegemony would become and set themselves up to defeat it. So I am going though the books looking for evidence of the nazi-punching heroes I hope the Draconites will turn out be.

If we paint the Hegemonists as the dark uniformed Imperial space nazis of Star Wars, then it follows that the Draconites – a secretive “Order” with a system of Apprentices, are the Jedi Knights of the Horizon, though they have no history of guiding a Galactic Old Republic to the light …

On page 183, we read of the Draconites as “traitors” , a third faction in the nascent disagreement between the the Hegemonists and what will become the Consortium. But we don’t get told whether any particular family leads them. Are the Draconites made up of more liberal members of all the Zenithian families? It doesn’t seem that they are “liberal” at all, actually, with their worship of the Executioner aspect of the Lady of Tears, and their motto “Through conflict, the truth.” Do they have sleeper Agents imbedded in both sides of the Zenithian debate?

It seems to me, that they actually left the Zenith before it finished it’s tour of the Third Horizon at Kua. I wonder if they discovered some ancient secret on that tour, and, without revealing it to their crew-mates, abandoned ship to take advantage of what that secret offered…

But there is very little detail in the core book, where again and again it says how little is known about the faction. And even in the Artefacts and Faction Technology supplement it mentions only Meson weaponry and an (admittedly impressive) camouflage sphere. No mention is made of any truly ancient artefacts that they might have discovered.

One thing we do know is that pretty much the first thing they did as an independent faction was not join with the Consortium and the Legion to wipe out the Hegemony, but rather to join with the Order of the Pariah (and the Legion) to wipe out the Nazareems Sacrifice. Why? Were the Sacrifice the greater threat? Or did they think the continued survival of the Hegemony would be useful to them, if only to keep the Consortium occupied?

One last unanswered question. What is a Draconite Dragoon? Sometimes, I feel that when writing the sub-concept suggestions, the authors just chose words that looked kind of cool, without really thinking about what it might mean. And perhaps that’s OK, it’s just a couple of words slammed together to prompt the player’s imagination. But Draconite Dragoon rubbed me up the wrong way. It’s in the operative concept, which is kind of about secret agents. But it’s a word which, to me invokes images of grav-bikes and dashing uniforms.

At this point, regular readers are probably shouting at their speakers that EVERYTHING makes me think of grav-bikes and dashing uniforms. But this time I genuinely have a historical precedent. You see, a Dragoon is a specific type of 18th century soldier, a sort of mounted infantry. They would ride into battle on horses, but dismount to engage the enemy. Unlike traditional cavalry, they carried guns, short barrelled muskets called carbines. The name still exists today, for highly mobile pathfinder troops operating lightly armoured vehicles. All of which seems a far cry from the workings of “the most secretive” faction in the Third Horizon.

But … everything I just said about Dragoons is from my memory. And I have just gone to Wikipedia to fact-check myself. And I learned some interesting things, not least that the British Army converted all its cavalry regiments to Dragoons in the eighteenth century, because Dragoons were paid less than cavalry. But that’s by the by. What’s most interesting is the the French persecuted Protestant Hugenot households by forcing them to accept a Dragoon as a ill behaved “houseguest” until they either converted to the catholic faith or left the country.

Now, I like the idea of this sort of “secret policeman”, even if it doesn’t quite fit with the nazi-punching hero faction I was looking for when I started with research. We don’t know, from the published books about any systems where the Draconites are the governing faction. And indeed the core book suggests that they is no system which the Draconites call “home”. But I can imagine that, somewhere, they might well aggressively repress other ideologies in this way. In such a case, the Dragoon would be a thuggish, lower caste policeman, not privy to the secrets of the Draconites but steeped in their philosophy. And let’s face it, if that philosophy included punching Nazis, we’d possibly forgive other boorish behaviours.

But it doesn’t seem that the Draconites are the Nazi-punchers I was looking for. If anything they hold the Hegemonists in contempt. But only because the Hegemonist’s racist dogma is so far removed from the truth that they seek, and the secrets they keep to themselves …