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 …

A problem like The Zenithian Hegemony

I am going to say it straight. The Zenithian Hegemony are the bad guys. The Syndicate are actual criminals of course, but the Hegemony are the evil empire. I put it to you, that this is the faction you should love to hate. The Zenithian Hegemony is Imperialism writ large. No, more than that. The Zenithian Hegemony are racists plain and simple, convinced that they are superior to the Firstcome, and obsessed with preserving their al-Ardhan bloodlines.

Their attitudes are so extreme they spurn biosculpting and cybernetics because of their obsession with blood purity. Indeed they consider themselves superior to other Zenithian factions like the Consortium, who have intermingled, culturally, with Firstcome. That said, some Firstcome might qualify for acceptance into the Hegemony. The Hegemony have a branch of science, hemographers, tasked with surveying, recording and testing pure Zenithian bloodlines. I imagine it’s those professionals who identified the Expatriates living in Xhi, a domed city on Amedo. Though their forebears arrived with the Firstcome, they claim to be related to the Families that left al-Ardha in the Zenith

In keeping with the duality that Fria Ligan build into all their work, there is a “less racist” part of the Hegemony. Some of the great families, who call themselves neo-Zenithians, at least believe in co-operating with the Consortium, and even with the Firstcome. It is this, slightly more liberal (but I am sure, just as patronisingly superior) part of the faction, which created the Judicators, to help police Coriolis. When I read on page 206 of the core book that the Zenithian Hegemony sends people to the courtesan academies of Ahlam’s Temple “to be taught the mysteries of subjectivity and sensory input” I can only assume it’s the Neo-Zenithian families. The Hegemonists are surely too arrogant to think that can learn anything from a Firstcome faction.

Their arrogance is somewhat justified. Their elite pilots and so called “peacock troops” defeated the Legion, who “were originally hired by the Consortium to wipe out the fleets of the Zenithian Hegemony, but suffered terrible losses and retreated, instead being tasked with hunting corsairs” (p198). The Consortium backed off after that, but they were right to try I think. The Hegemony obviously intend to replace the Consortium as the supreme Zenithian power in the Horizon.

And if the Hegemony achieved their ambitions, and took over from the Consortium to become the most powerful faction in the horizon? What would life be like under them? We can glimpse that terrible future in the Conglomerate, the city that surrounds the Hegemony’s base of operations. “They […] leave most of the daily affairs to hired Algolan colonists, who in turn rule the plebeians and slummers with an iron fist.” What are Algolans famous for? Their slave trade. No one with any sense of fair play wants the Hegemony in charge.

So, how do they work in play? Could they be a client or patron for your crew? Possibly. Very probably one you don’t like very much. Let’s explore possibilities for each of the group concepts:

Free traders will work for anyone, for the right price. If the Zenithian Hegemony are handing work out to any trader without a blood connection, it’s probably dirty work they don’t want to be connected with, like smuggling slaves from Algol to the factories of the Conglomerate. Alternatively, if you have a blood connection with one of the families, you could get a franchise on a lucrative route, which while perfectly legal, you might still find a little distasteful. I am thinking something like the British Empire’s Opium trade, transporting the drug to China, and bringing Tea back to the Empire.

Mercenaries might get a job enforcing trade. When the uppity Chinese tried to stop the British selling drugs to their populace, the Empire sent the gunboats in to ensure the trade continued. The Zenithan Hegemony doesn’t need mercenaries – they have some of finest militaries and fleets in the horizon. But they might subcontract some work out to a mercenary company with the right connections. Actually if your players want a military campaign, there is a concept I am half inspired to develop and run, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Explorers might well find employment seeking out the “lost colonies” of true-blood relatives that the Hegemony believe might have arrived on the Nadir, or indeed travelled with the Firstcome, but descended from those members of the great families that were left behind when Zenith and Nadir left al-Ardha. Or you might be seeking out portal-builder relics for them. Actually though I think it’s more likely that some Hegemony archaeologist is your rival, like Doctor Belloc or Major Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Agents, these are your enemies. The Astûrban seem to be set up as antagonists for your players rather than allies or patrons. As it says on page 215, “they are not prone to hiring freelancers, but it happens, if unofficially.” If they only hand out the shady jobs to Free Traders, then the sort of work they give to freelance Agents is going to really dirty, with ultimate deniability. Take a mission from the Astûrban, and I reckon you are expected not to survive. And if you do, I have a sneaking suspicion that might may have a terrible “accident” later on when you least expect it.

Could you play Astûrban agents? Could your character be a factionary in the Zenithian Hegemony? Do you want to play an arrogant racist secret policeman? I am reminded of what Denis Detweiler and Greg Stolze said about playing Nazis in their excellent World War Two superheros game, Godlike. Or rather in Will to Power, their supplement about the SS. In fact, let me read you some choice lines from that book, an answer to a hypothetical question about playing the game with SS player characters: “Will I can’t stop you – but if you do, you’re an idiot. […] If you want to play a black-uniform-wearing baby-killer – if that’s what gets you off – go ahead, but don’t pretend this book is inviting you to do so. The characters, organizations and facilities presented within are targets for the players’ characters to kill, disrupt and destroy.” Yeah, I am calling it, The Hegemonists are Space Nazis.

Pilgrims? What sort of pilgrims would they be? Atheist blood-cult space-nazi pilgrims, looking for the lost tribes of the Nadir? I’ve had to put my Nazareem Sacrifice campaign on hold to concentrate on my thesis, but those mad chaotic evil cadaver clock building nutters are preferable to the cold, calculating LAWFUL evil of the the Zenithian Hegemony.

Actually I quite like the idea of giving a character the problem “Pure-blood Zenithian Heritage” If you are descended from one of the great families you could find yourself rescued from a dire situation in a Deus Ex Machina extraction by a Hegemonic strike team. Indeed you might find yourself being “rescued” when you didn’t think you needed recusing, if there is any danger of being “brainwashed by anti-Zenithian interests.”

Seriously though, how could player characters come from the Zenithian Hegemony without their players having to wash the foul taste of racism out of their brains afterwards? I have an idea that has been floating about in the back of my head for decades. (You may have already read a version of it) Seriously, I remember sitting in my Dad’s study when I lived with my parents to plot some of it out. It was for Traveller, but not set in space, rather it was planet based, on a sort of Luxurious University Planet called Academè. It was a mix of Oxford, West Point, and those universities in Victorian era Germany, where student would duel and wear their facial scars as a badge of honour. I imagined the players as privileged students with many many surnames, competing for house points, uncovering deeper mysteries, and realising their idyllic life was serviced by an underclass that never saw the daylight of the sculpted landscapes in which they had their adventures. It didn’t go anywhere back then, but I think a story set in and around a Hegemonic Military Academy might be quite fun. Think of it as part Harry Flashman, and part Harry Potter, with a dash of Jane Austen thrown in for good measure. Everyone would be a scion of one of the major families. And would get to wear a colourful uniform, because they would also have an honorary rank in a family regiment, one of the so called Peacock Troops. The good guys in this context would be the NEO-ZENITHIANS, slightly more liberal, and patrician in their outlook. The families of Arianites; Laskarid; Vanna; Din Eusidia; Aristides, would in this scenario be like Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. The bad guys would be the HEGEMONIST families: Quassar; Din Hrama; Konstantinides; Zenone; Astir, some Ravenclaw, but the Quassars and Astirs definitely more Slytherin. Players could choose to be from any family and initially family rivalries and blood-bonds would form the basis of the drama. In the end though, I hope the characters might see the inherent evil of the Hegemonists, and graduate not to serve the faction but to fight against it…

Thoughts about extended Manipulation challenges in Coriolis

You have heard me grumble about the Reputation and Manipulation mechanics in Coriolis. My biggest gripe, as I explained in season 1 episode 17, is the potential for two starting characters to have a modifier of plus or minus six on manipulation rolls.

A few weeks ago, I played the QuickStart for the new Expanse RPG. It didn’t make me want to kick in for the game but I did like their social encounter rules. In that system, you have to work on building a relationship with your interlocutor, winning them over with a sequence of approaches and rolls. So for example, though they might be suspicious of you to begin with, you might buy them a drink to shift their attitude to a more neutral one. Then you might, for example flirt with them to make their attitude more positive, friendly even, then hit them with the question you really wanted to ask in the first place.

We’d recently been playing Tales from the Loop, and this longer social encounter mechanic, reminded me of Extended Trouble from that Year Zero Engine game. That is only really used in the climatic scene of an adventure. Most of the Troubles player characters face in Loop adventure can be overcome (or not) its one simple roll. Remember in Loop, the GM doesn’t roll, it’s a player facing game.

So, I thought, could we create something like an Extended Trouble for more dramatic manipulation rolls? I think we can.

Now I have to be clear, I have not tested it in play yet. I am having to take some time away from my local group, so the opportunity to do so won’t come up for a month or so. But this is my idea: Rather than use the difference in reputation as a modifier on manipulation rolls, make it a target. Make it the number of successes one party has to roll to manipulate the other.

Here’s how it goes:

1. Work out the difference between the reputation of the person you want to manipulate, and that of the member of your party present in the scene with the lowest reputation. (Which is to say, that you may be a courtesan with a high manipulation skill, and an excellent reputation, but you you bought your humanite soldier, with a rep of one or zero with you, it’s that reputation you are comparing, not yours. Faceman always worked best without BA around. )

2. That difference is the TARGET, the number of successes you need to get (though it never goes below one). You always have to get one success of course, which means that between two characters with the same reputation, manipulation rolls would work pretty much as they do already. The same would be true if the characters had one rank of reputation difference between them – although the one die modifier that the rules mandate would not apply under this system.

3. If the TARGET is between one and two, or maybe three, the manipulator can risk a single dice roll. If it is four or more, an extended manipulation attempt is required. The manipulator (and their allies if they wish) must work their way to achieving the objective.

4. Make a series of social gambits, which might include: offers or requests for hospitality, the exchange of gifts, ceremonial tea, compliments, chat up lines etc, banking your successes against the target.

5. Each roll will be modified by your opponent’s attitude towards you. Zero modifier if their attitude is neutral, minus one die if they are suspicious if you, minus two dice if they are hostile, and maybe minus three dice when there another aggravating circumstance. You can get positive modifiers too, maybe plus one die, if they owe you a favour, or plus two if they are a real friend already.

6. You must bank at least one success against your TARGET with every roll. If you fail to do so at any stage, the extended manipulation challenge is over. If you get extra successes with any roll, you can bank them against your TARGET too, or you can spend no more than one extra success to reduce a negative modifier by one die.

7. When you are close to your TARGET, you can risk asking your opponent for your objective. (If you achieve your TARGET number of successes with previous social gambits before the gambit that gets your objective, you still need to make one more roll, to ask for your objective.)

So for example, if you want a favour from some high ranking factionary, you might need six or seven successes. But you don’t need them all in one roll. You would, of course, if you demanded that favour straight away, but a wise traveller in the Third Horizon knows not to be so rude. You and your crew know how to be polite. So you might start by humbly requesting hospitality, make a roll for that, maybe with one less die, because the factionary is suspicious of your motives, and earn one or two successes. Bank those against your target, and compliment your host upon the quality of their baklava. You earn another couple of successes there, and chose to spend one to reduce his suspicions to a neutral attitude. Offer to pour the tea, roll and earn another couple of successes. That’s four successes against your TARGET of six. You could butter up the factionary some more, but time is short, you ask for the favour, and roll. You can always offer a prayer to Icons if you say the wrong thing…

Almudakhir and Kharon

My very basic sketch as I tried to apply the aesthetics of an Egyptian Barge of the Dead to space travel. I have no 3D modelling-fu.

For Icon worshipers across the horizon, including the Church of the Icons and the Order of the Pariah, it is traditional to cremate the dead, except those revered as saints. Their holy bodies are preserved so that their spirits may continue to find a way to the horizon and continue their good work. One of the many heresies that the Nazareem’s Sacrifice were accused of was their insistence that every initiated member of the cult was a saint. To the horror and disgust of other societies, The Nazareem’s Sacrifice no dead cultist was cremated. Instead the “beautiful dead ” were interred on Charnel Ships, which constantly plied the Dark between the stars.

Nazareem Charnel Ships were never designed for atmospheric entry. Generally class four of five, they were serviced by shuttle and supply ships. Their main hull took the form of an ancient boat lying on its side heading, keel first, into the Dark. Two huge archaic graviton projectors extended rearwards. The macabre “cargo” was kept externally, the vacuum of space desiccating and preserving the bodies of the saints while giving their spirits the opportunity to commune with the Dark Between the Stars. The structure that holds the dead is a scaffold frame between the graviton projectors, which can be expanded as more bodies are added. It is built around the entrance to the hanger, so that cortege shuttles could pause on their way into the hanger to inter the saintly cargo in their appointed place on the scaffold.

When the Horizon turned against the Nazareem’s Sacrifice in the early years of the Portal Wars, it was considered a matter of both faith and hygiene to instruct the Legion to seek out and destroy every Charnel Ship that the Sacrifice had launched. It is doubtful whether this task was completed. With the arrival of the Zenith, the Legion gradually became distracted by other tasks. There are rumours of ships of the dead still playing the space lanes.

And there is at least one still in operation.

The Almudakhir is hundreds of years old. No one knows its yard of construction, and some have suggested it may have been built in orbit around Al-Ardha itself in the First Horizon. How it survived the purge is unknown.

Features

Almudakhir features ancient glyph-type 8 point armour had predates the sort used by the Order of the Pariah. Apart from being very hard to actually look at, the armor can negate all damage from an incoming attack. (This generates 2 DPs for the GM. If the attack is a torpedo attack, 3 DPs are generated. This effect can be used only once for regular attacks and once for torpedo attacks in a spaceship combat.) Like every Charnel Ship, it carries its cargo externally, there are around 1250 tons of corpses in the scaffolding that project from the aft of the vessel, between two old and outsized graviton projectors. In theory, if there is a revival of the sect, and many more adherents to inter, the cargo scaffold could extend even further. A cloistered arboretum of remembrance sits below the base of the cargo scaffold. It’s a long, square walk with a number of stopping places – benches, tables and chairs or water features. Looking up, the plexiglass ceiling reveals the ranks of the dead stacked high above. (The artificial gravity of board is orientated so that aft is “up”, and “down” points to the keel of the ship and the direction of travel.)

Modules

The arboretum has become the defacto social space for the crew, because the crew quarters are 20 basic “coffin style” bunks with shared facilities. There is also, of course a Stasis hold, which as usual for a ship this size, holds up to 60 people in Stasis. The bridge is on the lowest deck, at front of the vessel. The consoles are set around a large round plexiglass viewport, set in the floor, which can be disconcerting to visitors as the ship appears to be falling through space. The original Nazareem’s Sacrifice chapel, with its cadaver clock, is still in place, but to disguise the true nature of the ship a more normal, nine Icon chapel has been retrofitted around it. Access to the cadaver clock is now through a secret door in Dancer’s alcove. None of the crew actually know what the cadaver clock does, so many mysteries of the Sacrifice were lost in the Purging. Close to the false chapel is a chapel of rest, which had been fitted out to do double duty as a Medlab.

Other modifications to the vessel include a number of weapon systems. There is a torpedo launch system, currently stocked with four ancient antimatter torpedos. Given that this ammunition costs almost a third of the value of the ship, the crew are advised to use them only as a last resort. Even more recently, the vessel was fitted with a data pulse system and an accelerator cannon.

The current crew have not yet explored the entire ship, but they do know there is a workshop and a hangar, which contains a vessel specially commissioned for their mission.

Kharon

The Clave of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice which sponsored this mission have commissioned a modern class II shuttle craft to act as the ships shuttle, and its public face. In an effort to disguise the true nature of Almudakhir and it’s crew, the Clave ordered Kharon from the Chelebs shipyard of Mira, heart of the Icon Church. It’s living quartets include four coffins and more standard cabin. There is a concealed section in the hold, for the transport of illicit cargo such as stolen relics. It’s only defence is an auto-cannon. Designed for atmospheric entry, it leaves its more macabre mothership hidden in the dark of space.

Kharon is equipped with a ship’s intelligence to make it semi-autonomous, capable of operating without a pilot if required. With its brand new, precise, thrusters it is very capable flier. However it takes its mission to hide the true nature of its crew and protect them from exposure very seriously, which can make it somewhat more obtuse than obedient.

Together these two ships, and their crew are on a risky mission. Emboldened by the discovery of a copy of a book once thought lost, A Soliloquy of Sacrifice, and Council’s decision to publicly release the text, the Sacrifice Clave hidden on Zib have repurposed the Almudakhir to seek out other Claves around the Horizon, and especially to recover the knowledge and artefacts that, since The Purging, have been hidden or lost for generations.

A fillable PDF ship sheet for Coriolis

ShipSheetImage
Click on the image to download the PDF

I think there is only a full colour version of the official ship sheet out there, so I took it apart in Acrobat DC, removed the ink-sucking space background and drop shadows, replaced the Coriolis logo with a black version, and of course, made it form-fillable. I left the little crew icons in colour. Please do feedback any errors I’ve made, or improvements I could change in the comments. If you are looking for the character sheet, its available here.

The Mystery of the Church of the Icons

I am guilty of taking the Church of the Icons for granted. And I think that is because for most of us, our experience of churches is of something that has always been there, or at least been around for centuries. Whether for not you go to church, the building itself is a landmark in your life, and similarly the traditions of whatever faith you are, or choose not to be, have become landmarks in our annual calendars. Our churches have become part of the background of our culture. Something we take for granted.

But there is a perplexing mystery at the heart of the Church of the Icons. The Church of the Icons is young.

Or rather, both old and new. The religion or folk law has been around for centuries, but the church, with its trans-Horizon structure, is “the Horizon’s youngest faction”

It’s rise to prominence is extraordinary. New international churches in our world do exist. For example the Church of Scientology, created by Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, is about as old as the The Church of Icons. It’s a global organisation, yes, but it doesn’t have reach and acceptance that the Icon Church appears to have achieved. What is the secret to their success?

The core book tell us that the Church of the Icons has “grown strong through collecting, canonizing and institutionalizing the wide, sprawling faith that has existed in the Horizon for centuries.” So, rather than making up a pantheon of Thetans, like L. Ron, the Church of the Icons appears to be more like the Baha’i faith. The Bahá’ís philosophy is one of unity, their belief is that every prophet, every religion, reveals a different aspect of the truth of god. Similarly the Church of the Icons seek out and embrace local variations of faith, progressively revealling the truth of the Icons. But the Bahá’í faith has not achieved the level of acceptance and authority the the Icon Church seems to have managed. Indeed its adherents are persecuted in the Middle East where it was founded by an Iranian, 125 years ago.

How has the Church not only become accepted, but risen to prominence so smoothly and so completely?

Perhaps the answer lies in its structure. The Icon faith is not a cult of personality. There is no L. Ron or Bab. Its a federation, the Matriarch and Partiarch appear to have little power except as notional figureheads, and there are two of them anyway, so neither one is THE leader. The Seekers, an ancient cult which may have had something to do with the founding of the Church, have been marginalised. They “looked upon as wise ascetics and prophets rather than actual figures of power within the faction.”

So, the Church of the Icons seems less like, say, the Catholic Church, under the Pope, and more like the international Anglican Communion, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is more a figure head than leader. I therefore imagine that the teachings of the church can be very different in different systems, just as the philosophies of the Episcopal church in the United States regarding, for example, homosexuality, are very different from those of their Anglican brethren in Africa.

So, how does anything get decided? How does the church make any decisions, if not by Papal Bull or Fatwa? I think, every two or three Cycles a great Synod is held, with representatives of the church from all corners of the Horizon attending. Much discussion is had, many topics are debated and occasionally, very occasionally something is agreed. Between such Synods, weighty topics might be the subject of an Ecumenical Assembly, which would present its findings at the next Synod. Thus it was the Nine Sacred Rites were only put in writing in CC49, only a couple of decades ago, in game canon. Before that, I imagine, that doctrine which denies the duality of Icons, and that evil exists, not in the Icons but within humanity was agreed in a similar manner, with much muttering around the periphery.

Indeed, I think that despite one of the nine sacred rites being that “Once a year, during the Cyclade, a believer should openly declare her faith by reciting the creed together with others in a temple” that Creed itself might still be in flux. The Creed isn’t defined anywhere in the core book after all, and we know very little about it other than that Icons are only good doctrine.

The core book mentions two schisms, which I think are not schisms at all, but rather issues upon which a Synod has not yet agreed a wording for the Creed. So right now, the creed does not mention Humanites at all. But perhaps, the first Cyclade after the Oikoumene as Najim Assembly has reported to the Synod, the Creed will include a line about whether Humanites have a soul, or are simply biological automata or animals.

Talking of souls, I am amazed that the Creed is not yet clear on what happens to your soul after you die. The Church of the Icons assures us that our souls do not become monsters trapped in the Dark between the stars, for which, personally, I am grateful, but stubbornly refuse to confirm whether you are rewarded with an afterlife in an Al-Ardhan paradise, or as the Seekers believe, becomes one with the Icons in the eternal Aoum.

The fact that there appears to be no ecumenical agreement upon this important matter, surely confirms that the Seekers are indeed marginalised, and are not the power behind the Church. But, conversely this fudging of the issue of the afterlife also raises questions about the rapid growth and success of the Church. In our world, the one key selling point for religions is the promise of an afterlife, be that in heaven, Valhalla, or a more successful reincarnation, if you follow the teachings of the church. And of course the many alternative hells or unfortunate reincarnations for those that don’t follow the path. If the Church of the Icons can’t define how your soul is rewarded, how come so many people, have accepted the Church and the Creed into their lives?

The Atheist’s Talent

A discussion in G+ prompted me to share this talent, which featured back in an early episode of The Coriolis Effect, but never saw publication on this blog. That is partly because it’s never been play-tested. I wrote it just in case a player might want to be an atheist. So far, no-one has. So this is a transcript of what I said on the ‘cast.

Not everyone in the third Horizon believes in the Icons. As the corebook says on page 191 “The secular Foundation is the part of the Consortium mainly concerned with research and development.”

That said, not everyone in the Foundation is an atheist. On page 243 it refers to “the most ardent disbelievers in the Foundation” which suggests that most of the foundation are, shall we say, less ardent. I’m sure in fact that the majority pray to the Icons, if only under their breath. After all it’s the rational thing to to do isn’t? Even if you don’t have scientific evidence that the Icons exist, uttering a short prayer when you want things to go right isn’t going to do any *harm* is it? We know that Rhavinn Bokor, the Foundation’s Akbar on Hamurabi portal station, is a friend and frequent dining partner of the preacher, Talib Ogor. Not everything in the dark between the Stars can be explained with science.

But what about your players? What if a player wants their character to be a hardline foundation scientist, an atheist? How do they play that in the game?

This hasn’t come up for me, yet, and currently, the Factions aren’t a big thing in my campaign – where they do appear they are like the wheel of fate, crushing the characters beneath its rim. That’s one of the things I like about the rules and the setting. Unlike many games with factions, no-one is forced to become a member of one. Indeed, only three character concepts give players the opportunity to start with the Faction Standing talent. But what if your players do want to get more involved in the politics and traditions of the factions, and represent the scientific method if the Foundation? Or to play a hardcore Zenithian with a sceptical view of the Firstcome religion? Or wants to play an atheist just to be different?

How does that work out in play? And more importantly, how does that square with the Icon Talent that every character receives? Shouldn’t there also be an Atheist’s Talent?

My first thought was that perhaps an Atheist should get a bonus on his or her more “rational” skills. But what do you call “rational”? Do I mean all the advanced skills? Well, sure, I can get behind a bonus on: COMMAND; CULTURE; DATA DJINN (of course); and, MEDICURGY but MYSTIC POWERS? I don’t think so.

Indeed I’m making a house-ruling here – you can’t be an atheist and have mystic powers.

So that made me think, you get a bonus, not on advanced skills, but all skills that are based on the Wits ability. I quickly ruled that out though – yes, it extends bonuses to skills like OBSERVATION and SURVIVAL, but it would exclude culture. And more insidiously it equates rationality with intelligence. As my mate Tony pointed out, with all the evidence there is of the existence of the Icons and the Dark Between the Stars that characters discover, Atheism is an irrational philosophy.

So no, I’m not giving a bonus to rolls exclusively involving Wits.

In fact I’m not sure a mere dice bonus is a good idea anyway. My thought *had* been to give just plus one dice to each roll, given that the bonus would apply to so many rolls. But given the way the dice mechanic works, that there’s a perception out there that it makes players feel their characters are incompetent, despite rolling a good number of dice, a plus one die bonus may not cut it.

Especially because I sure of one thing – that the *cost* of the Atheist’s talent is that you are not allowed to pray, *ever*. Well that’s not quite true. I want the cost to be that if you ever do pray, you lose the Atheist’s talent.

The whole point of this rule is to create a situation, where the player must weigh up the cost of admitting that the Icons exist, against the opportunity to succeed when they’ve failed a roll. I want the temptation to pray, to be counter-balanced by a talent that has *real* value’ so that losing it, and opting in re-roll, is a big decision.

And while I think that a plus one bonus on every roll is *actually* a big deal, I worry that players won’t appreciate its value. And will discard the talent on the first fluffed roll.

And then it hit me. Certainty. The Atheists in this universe are stubborn believers in an idea, despite all the evidence to the contrary. They know (or think they know) how the world works. They are confident that they can explain cause and effect, action and reaction.

So how about this?

The Atheist’s talent.

This talent may be chosen instead of randomly selecting an Icon talent. For each advanced or general skill in which they have one level (except Mystic Powers – if they have mystic powers they shouldn’t be an atheist) the player makes a roll, with a plus one bonus before the game starts, and notes the result. A failed roll means that the first time they use that skill in the adventure, the character will fail, but after that they can roll normally.

Any roll with one or more successes can be held until the player chooses to spend it. They don’t have to spend it the first time they use the skill, they can always choose to roll normally instead and accept that roll. Any difficulty penalty the GM imposes is taken from failed dice before dice that rolled six.

If the player chooses to pray (re-roll) on any role, the character loses the Atheist talent, and must spend five experience points to draw an Icon talent.

Reputation and Oases

What do you think is the worst rule in Coriolis? It’s an elegant system, and frankly I don’t think there is much wrong with it. But I do have a problem with Reputation. And this bit in particular:

Your Reputation score and that of your opponent will affect your MANIPULATION roll. If yours is higher, you get a +1 for each step you outrank your opponent. If your score is lower, you instead get a -1 for each step of difference. Reputation will, however, only affect your roll in situations where your social standing in the Third Horizon is relevant. The GM has the final call on this.

What’s wrong with this? Well, first of all, it could amount to a massive modifier on manipulation. Reputation for starting characters ranges between 2 and 6, before any modifiers for profession, race (if you are humanite) or talents. Play a humanite soldier for example, and your reputation is zero (it can’t go negative). You could argue that it’s a perfectly valid for a humanite to be challenged trying to convince a Coriolis council member to change their mind, but most other difficulty modifiers range between -3 to +3. With manipulation it’s feasible to have a negative or positive modifier of six dice, before the GM starts awarding points for good deeds.

And that’s another thing, reputation is only awarded for “something generally considered good and heroic”. So, if you set out to be the most feared pirate in the horizon, you had better give up any hope of succeeding in a manipulation roll. In the forthcoming Forbidden Lands version of the ruleset, your Reputation can be good or bad. Though it has a similar modifying effect to Manipulation, it also works for basic recognition rolls. In essence, does your reputation proceed you.

Which brings me to my main point. Space is big, even that little bit of it called the third horizon. It takes be best part of twelve hours to relay a message from Kua to Djachroum and back, traveling at light speed. And ships don’t go that fast. You’d take three weeks to fly between those two places. The only way to communicate between systems is via portals, and though it’s possible it’s by no means instantaneous, and is very expensive. Yes, the Bulletin has its network of probes to transmit news but even so, news travels slowly in the Third Horizon. There are also millions more people than there might be in the Forbidden Lands. And, remember, these are systems that have different cultures, languages and structures after decades of isolation. My argument being, in the Third Horizon you will never be as famous as you think you are.

So, as GM, I have always seen Reputation more as a score of self-respect, honour, than people actually trusting you more because of your good deeds. I might be wrong in this, but if I were to start using Reputation as actual renown, it would rarely modify dice rolls. I even wonder if it isn’t an optional rule – I always find it slightly weird in fact that the text I read out earlier for using Reputation appears as a sidebar (on page 62) and not in the body text. After years of reading RPG layouts, I’ve come to think of sidebars are places for examples or optional rules. I’d written it off as a layout error or rather a forced compromise, but perhaps it’s intentional, sidebarred because it should be a rarely used rule. Anyhow, I rarely house rule but I do houserule this. If there is a difference in reputation you get a single modification die on your Manipulate roll. If the difference in massive it might be two or at the most three dice of modification, but no more than that.

So I am going to use the Reputation score on your character sheet as a measure of self-respect and confidence. So how am I going to measure how well people know you, speak of you, and trust you? Well I think that’s more local, and based not or word of your good deeds spreading across the horizon, but rather on the places you go and the people you deal with. There have been some suggestions that perhaps you might earn different reputations with different factions. But I disagree. Factions, like space, are too big to care about the little people. The Faction Standing Talent is, I think, the only mechanic we need to reflect characters that have some influence in a faction. So instead I offer this:

If you visit a place more than once, you might begin to consider it a safe port, or “Oasis”. A place to retreat to, to lick your wounds, repair your ship and fence your stolen artefacts. And that’s when you could start measuring your relationships in that local community. Each Oasis will offer one or more services. Right now I am thinking the list includes: Ship service and repair; Prayer; Brokerage; Security; Traders; Counselling (by which I mean treatment of Mind points); and Medicurgy, but I’d be interested in hearing any others that people might suggest. On the ‘cast Dave suggested “protection” or “sanctuary”, but I think that’s what I really meant by security, rather than “law and order” (though of course law and order may well provide security for some crews. It sort of depends on what sort of crew you are. There may also be a separate Administration.

So for example, your Oasis might be Samar’s Hamam. Though it’s a small location, and ostensibly a bathhouse, which would probably count as Counselling, a crew might also use it for Brokerage there. Or your Oasis might be Djachroum, the asteroid station on Kua’s Rimward reach, where pretty much every service is on offer. On Djachroum, the administration is the enigmatic Aqbar, at Samar’s it’s of course the boss, Samar herself, but here, the administration and the main service, Counselling, are one and the same. The Brokerage service at Samar’s is actually another regular customer – let’s call him Bardas. On Djachroum the services might be provided by named individuals, or more probably organisations, for example the Samaritans will be the main providers of Medicurgy. It’s possible for your crew to have a relationship with those organisations, without have to name an individual, but your relationship is only at a local level. Having a good relationship with the Samaritans on Djachroum does not mean you can expect the same welcome when you visit them on Coriolis. Just as the Samaritans are an extension of the Order of the Pariah, other service providers might also have a relationship with a faction. Our broker friend Bardas might be connected with the Nomad Federation for example, but they don’t need to have such an allegiance, the Aqbar of Djachroum is famously independent.

To track your relationship, I’m thinking about a very simple scale with zero, one or two dice modifiers. Your relationship starts at zero, you are just another customer. But there are two ways to earn positive dice. Do a favour or a job of work for them, and you get a one die bonus. Or spend five experience points to claim a personal relationship with the organisation and get another die bonus. (The GMCs created with the Friend in Every Port talent don’t get the bonus die, unless you also spend five XP.) It’s possible to get both bonus dice, but two is the absolute maximum. And you can’t pay 10 xp, or do two jobs to get two dice, you must earn one with each method.

Of course you can make an enemy of any of these providers. Wrong them, or screw up the job they gave you, and you’ll get a negative modifier on future dealing with them. Punish them for that slight (I know what players are like) and the modifier is -2 dice. It’s hard to recover those negative dice, just ask Sergei Skripal. But each job you successfully do for them will help you get back a zero modifier. I think though that you will never earn a positive die with them.

I’m putting together an Oasis record sheet, to help the GM keep track of those relationship. Right now, I am thinking that each crew can only have one Oasis, but given that the sheet I’m designing might currently fits more than one, I might change my mind. Dave lobbied hard on the podcast for more than one. And I was reminded that Kosta said in our interview, that one of the reasons there were no “Ark Rules” was because crews would get “home” very rarely. Either way, when I have completed it, I’ll share it here.

Have your say!

coriolisalbumcover

Click Here to take survey

We’ve been publishing The Coriolis Effect podcast since May, and it quickly became more successful than we ever imagined. Thanks to you, all our lovely listeners. To be honest we bashed that first episode together quickly to see if there was any interest. And when it turned out there was interest, we thought “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and carried on in the same vein.

Of course we have tried some new things – the actual plays, our Swedish adventure, and most recently, The Symbaroum Effect special. As we head, full steam towards 2018, we thought this might be a good opportunity to review what we were doing, and what we might want to do in future. We’ve had some ideas, but we thought we should also listen to our listeners and ask you what you think about our future direction.

Don’t worry! It doesn’t mean The Coriolis Effect is going to change, we’re just floating some ideas by you to see if you like them. If you prefer us just the way we are, say so! We’re very happy doing what we’e doing.

Click Here to take survey