Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mega-Dungeons of Space: Hulks

Image by deviantart user, PavellKiD

Derelict spacecraft are truly the dungeons of space, and the Space Hulks are the truly legendary dungeons of the stars. They are ancient, titanic starships that were built by an unknown species that possibly predates the Prometheans. This massive starships either drift through space or randomly jump in and out of space time via some unknown method. As far back into the records of even the oldest space-faring species, Space Hulks have been cataloged, studied, boarded, and explored. While some corporations have made their fortunes and reputations from the tech scavenged from these ancient wrecks, even more corporations and far more explorers, scientists, and mercenaries have lost everything: their credits, their lives, and their sanity on these ships.

There are 16 known Space Hulks, but it is theorized that this may not be the total number of hulks in the galaxy. It has also been theorized that there may every well be many other hulks in the cold dark of space between galaxies, since there are several researchers that believe that the space hulks originated from another galaxy, be it Andromeda or another nearby dwarf galaxy. Every hulk is gigantic, large enough to generate their own gravity and atmosphere in many cases, but each one is now far larger than they originally were. Over the eons, these ships have collected other spacecraft (likely predominantly the ships of explorers and scavengers that have been lost on their endeavors) as well as asteroids and other space debris that have become lodged into the hulls and therefore have become part of the craft.  They are not unlike museums drifting through space and in an out of our reality. Thanks to their nigh-unimaginable age, they hold untold treasures of technology, history, genetics, and weaponry; all ripe for the picking should an enterprising crew happen to find one.

Most Hulks, save one, either drift through space or (more commonly) shunt into and out of reality seemingly at random. The means by which these immense starships do this is completely unknown. One moment, the Hulk is sitting in space, and then comes a building of energy and the ship appears to slip sideways into a tear in the fabric of space and is gone. That hulk may reappear on the other side of the galaxy within days or not for centuries. There so far has been no pattern that can be discerned from the comings and goings of a Space Hulk. They simply appear and disappear at random. Even the most widely accepted theory on their method of travel (dimensional shunting) has not been proven. All that is certain, is when the ship disappears, it's not as if it is cloaked; it simply isn't there anymore. The few that have been on a Hulk as it traveled in this manner state that space is different. It ripples ever so slightly as if the Hulk were suspended in a calm body of water. The alignment of the stars are wrong, and some will wink in and out as if someone is turning them on and off like a light. A strong feeling of disorientation and "wrongness" permeates this other dimension or reality, so much so that over 85% of those that have entered this other realm have been driven insane by the experience.

Out of the 16 known Hulks, two have been destroyed, one by altering its course into a nearby star, which nearly killed the star in the process (Devastator), and the other by it re-entering our reality too close to a black hole (H-13). Even though there are many that would risk their companies, their nations, and their lives to study and plunder the secrets of a Hulk, everyone fears the appearance of one of these mammoths in their system. This fearful reputation is well deserved. It was the Space Hulk, Tyrannus, that introduced the worlds of the Concord to the Tyranid menace. The Hulk, Primal Necropolis, carries a plague parts of its interior that kills with 99% effectiveness and those that survive and typically driven insane by the ravages of the disease. Alien horrors and virulent plagues are only two of the dangers of a Space Hulk. Explorers must also be wary of unstable bulkheads that can open out into the vacuum of space, still active internal defenses, pirates and other not-so-noble explorers, and disappearing into some unknown reality whenever the Hulk decides it is time to leave. Hulks have earned their infamy for all of these reasons and more, but the rewards for those who can plumb the depths, even ever so shallowly, and escape with not just their lives, but with artifacts or data have made the fortunes of many.

Below is a list of the known Hulks and a few details about the more (in)famous hulks.

Devastator was the first Hulk in recorded history to be destroyed. This Hulk housed an army of mutated marauders known as Death Knights. These humanoid creatures donned armor that appeared to be a conglomeration of their own armor and pieces scrounged from the inside of the Hulk. Wherever Devastator appeared, these vicious and bloodthirsty beings would swarm out of the hulk and lay waste to any nearby worlds. The Death Knights appeared to know when Devastator was about to disappear, as they would break off attacks to return to the hulk even when they were on the cusp of domination over the defense forces of a local system. The Protoss Collective finally ended Devastator's reign of terror by using mass drivers to hurl enough asteroids and proto-planets into the hulk, forcing it on a collision course with the star Ainuri, which nearly caused the star to destabilize and go super-nova far sooner than it would have naturally. Sadly, the increased solar radiation burned off much of the third planet's atmosphere, killing billions of Protoss citizens in the process.

Tyrannus is infamous for being infested with the insectoid-like beings, predominantly the dreaded Genestealers. Genestealers propagate their species by using barbs at the end of their long tongues to inject their genetic material into a host. Over time, the hosts DNA is re-written into that of a Genestealer. This process typically take a week or two, but there are some tales of Genestealer infections transforming a victim in only hours. The Concord issued Emergency Decree #18 after Tyrannus appeared in the Moltanik system and the Hive swarmed forth, completely wiping out three colonies in the system and destroying a space station. The decree states that if any Concord member detects the presence of the Hulk, Tyrannus, that the Concord Navy is to be contacted at once and emergency war-time defense strategies should immediately be enacted.

Primal Necropolis is largely an enigma. Of all the known Hulks, save the Aegis of Time, it holds more derelict ships on its hull. The disease known as the Primal Curse hangs in the air. No one can explain how a disease that live for so long without a host, but the effects are clear: hemorrhaging, hallucinations, loss of muscle control, and finally death are all effects of the disease. As said above, this plague has a 99% kill rate in those infected. The disease is also very virulent outside of the Hulk. There is a crater on the planet Farson III, where a colony was obliterated from orbit due to the rapid spread of the disease. So little of this hulk has been explored, but those that have entered it say that the hallways are littered with the bones of those that attempted to plunder the Hulk, some of the species were totally new to researchers. Primal Necropolis is another hulk that is off-limits to citizens of the Concord by Emergency Decree.

Aegis of Time is an anomaly among Space Hulks. It orbits the star of the Ylindril system between the fourth and fifth gas giants in the system. It has orbited Ylindril for at least the last 500 years thanks to evidence found among the remains of those that explored the hulk before an exploration ship re-discovered it 52 years ago. This hulk is also an anomaly for being far less deadly than any other hulk. It still has its dangers, but the Aegis of Time has been deemed safe enough to house a full time science team. Over the last couple of decades the hulk has turned into a sort of space station in the sector. Even though this hulk has been studied non-stop for the last 52 years, only 36% of the craft has been properly mapped and explored. There are still vast areas of the craft that are closed off in spite of the best efforts of Concord scientists and military forces. Thanks to the artifacts and remains found in the corridors and rooms of the Aegis of Time, 15 new species of intelligent life have been discovered (although the age of the remains and the lack of any other confirmed sightings leads researchers to believe that most of those species may no longer exist), technological discoveries have lead to more efficient power packs for weapons and gear, and that's not even mentioning the various historical artifacts in the forms of vids (taken from the remains), data-chips, and pads.

Fordham's Folly is the latest Hulk to be discovered. It appeared deep in the Oort Cloud of the Sol System. Commander Travis Fordham of the Sol Systems Alliance Navy fought hard to lead a team of scientists and soldiers to explore the Hulk as he has always been enthralled by the legends of these craft and therefore desperately wanted to explore one. The team was only on the hulk for two hours before it shunted away. The team was feared to be lost when the Hulk reappeared in the same location just minutes later. A frantic call for help was received from the hulk and an extraction team was sent in. Commander Fordham was the only person found, alive or dead, although his armor was caked in blood. Cmdr Fordham couldn't explain where his team was and appeared to have no recollection of the time the hulk had disappeared. All he would say was that "the shadows" over and over. He was deemed to be suffering an extreme case of PTSD and was placed into psychiatric care at Bethesda Medical on Earth. Cmdr Fordham would become suddenly violent and killed three staffers, forcing him to be placed into solitary confinement. The once storied career of Cmdr Fordham came to and end 10 years to the day after his rescue from the Hulk. He was discovered in his cell with a snapped neck. It was assumed that he somehow committed suicide, but signs of a struggle suggest he was murdered. The vid feed in his cell showed Cmdr Fordham suddenly becoming agitated and frightened. The vid goes slowly dark, although there was nothing wrong with the lighting or the vid feed, until nothing can be seen. All that is heard is a scream and a crack and the feed suddenly clear up to show Fordham dead in the corner of his cell.
     As for the Hulk, after the extraction team rescued Cmdr Fordham, it disappeared. It has only reappeared one other time (that anyone is aware of), in the Wrinlovex System three years after its appearance in the Sol System. It was monitored for for a few minutes until it disappeared again.

The Curse of Khaine is a hulk first encountered by the Eldar in their home system. Details are sketchy, largely in part because the Eldar do not speak of their home system except in riddles and half-truths, but the Eldar feel the appearance of the Curse of Khaine directly lead to the downfall of their society. Exarch Tolis of the craftship, Eleshaar, gives the best depiction of the Curse of Khaine and why his people fear it so much: "The Curse of Khaine brought forth the blight that ended the Eldar Empire and sent us on our exile to find a new home in the cosmos. It was manned by the damned and it spells the doom for all that encounter it. Do not search for the Curse of Khaine, but know that the day will come when it will appear and all of us will have to peer in the darkness and see the terrors that await us." As far as is known, the Curse of Khaine has only be witnessed by the Eldar, so it's possible it's just a metaphor for something whatever was plaguing Eldar society at the time of their fall, but since the Eldar are so secretive about their origins it must be left up to pure speculation until now.

Danar'sidai is the only hulk that has never shunted for as long as it has been tracked by any of the Concord societies. It plods along at a rate of about 6 AU's per year. Danar'sidai is the name given to the hulk by the Minbari, who discovered (well, the first of the Concord species to discover it, that is) it back in the early days of their baby-steps into the Cosmos. The name mean "Deathbringer." The Minbari have tried to destroy the craft many times, but have so far been completely unsuccessful. Out of all of the Hulks, only the Aegis of Time has been more thoroughly explored, however, no map of Danar'sidai is useful. The interior of the craft seems to shift and change with time. A map that may have been perfectly good 12 years ago, may be virtually worthless now; a quality that has baffled every scientist that has ever studied the hulk. The hulk is a hotspot for explorers, pirates, and plunderers though looking for ancient relics and tech thanks to its predictability. That appears to be where much of the danger stems from: other explorers. However, the Minbari that first explored the hulk ran into strange alien beings who had the appearance of having lived on the hulk for a long time. In fact, teams of raiders and other explorers have gone missing in the depths of the hulk. It is possible that these lost folk have met with others, and possibly have built their own colonies inside the hulk; with the strange occurrences surrounding these titans of space, it appears that anything is possible.

The other eight hulks have never been explored by Concord members. Other cultures may have names for these other hulks, but none of that information has been made available to Concord historians and researchers. What is known is that if any of these other hulks enter into Concord space and are discovered, that it is Concord law that the Navy be notified immediately and that the local security forces secure the hulk until the Navy can arrive to properly assess the situation. With the myriad of dangers that these starcraft can house inside of them, it is no wonder that the Concord wants to keep foolhardy explorers plumbing the depths and unleashing unknown horrors upon the Concord, and the galaxy at large.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The New Canon and Another Death

The news that many of us expected was coming down (well, I expected it at least) finally arrived: The Star Wars Expanded Universe is essentially null and void. I completely understand and respect the decision. After all, vast swaths of the Expanded Universe material was less than stellar (although I did enjoy much of it...a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine) and why tie down the new movies to canon of questionable quality. However, I hope that this doesn't mean that we'll never see Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, the young Skywalker and Solo kids, and the characters from the EU that were bright spots. Supposedly, the novels and such will continue, but the current timeline of the novels are a different "what if" reality of Star Wars and not the real thing. (You can read the official announcement here.)

Also in geek news today, Marvel has announced that they are going to kill Wolverine. That's right, the big kahuna of the Marvel Universes is going to bite the big one. Although I have some major doubts that Marvel will kill off one of, if not the, most popular character in their universe with the intent of Wolvie staying dead for longer than 4-year old's attention span lasts, I do hope that Wolverine will stay dead longer than Superman. After all, if you're going to have the brass cajones to kill off one of the big dogs, have the same level of cajones to keep 'em dead long enough for rigor mortis to set in. Not sure how I feel about this one, but Marvel has made it quite a habit of having grand, far-affecting, events and then retconning them a month or two later, so I doubt that one of my favorites will be gone for very long.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another Quiet Week... least it has been quiet on the blog that is. I am still kicking and I am still working on a few things, just not a lot of time to write up anything for here. Sorry about that. I do hope to get some stuff I've got on the burners finished up once a few things on the homefront calm down. Possible changes in employment can kind of throw a monkey wrench into plans for creativity. Plus, it's been freaking gorgeous outside, so we've been taking advantage of it before the weather turns stormy or too hot.

Here's an update on my current projects:

Mythic Space: I'm still working on the main rulebook. It's coming along pretty well. Really, it's pretty much done, but I'm constantly finding things to tweak and add to the book. Once that's done, I'll be posting more setting material and write-ups on the various species, systems, ships, and creatures. In fact, I've got a post of Farscape species for Rogue Space already queued up, I'm just waiting to get the Savage Worlds side of the statblocks wrapped up before I post it.

S&W Setting: When I started tossing together some ideas for a setting for Swords & Wizardry using the Known World/Mystara setting as a base, I thought I'd be able to keep it focused on primarily Mystara. However, it has since blossomed into another wide-ranging setting drawing material from across the D&D/OSR/D20 spectrum. I wouldn't expect anything too concrete on this beyond snippets here and there, as this is more of a fall back project that I work on when I want to get away from Sci-Fi for a bit.

Dungeon Crawler Board Game: This project kind of took off on its own. I sat down one night to put together some ideas of things I thought might work and ended up writing a lot. I've got some monster cards and character cards already worked up, and I think I'll be playtesting this shortly. It's largely based off of the Talisman system, but tweaked liberally to make it work for a dungeon crawler. I think it's going to harken back to Hero Quest and Warhammer Quest once I get it into a playable state.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Life in the Galaxy

Life in the 24th century isn't a Utopia, but compared to today it looks like it in many ways. On Earth, very few are hungry and those that are are in that state largely due to their own vices. Disease is largely eradicated, and those that still exist are (again largely) easily managed with medicines and gene therapies. Energy is plentiful, as is drinking water. The environmental disasters that loom on the horizon today, and became a reality in the late 21st Century are a thing of the past. The politics of 24th century Earth deal mostly with matters pertaining to the Concord and not between rival Terran nations. We've abandoned the machismo and arrogance of today's society because we had to as a species when we joined the galactic community. There are still wars, rogue states, spying, greed, avarice, fanaticism, and violence, but such problems rarely affect the lives of those living on Earth and its established colonies in the time of the Mythic Space campaign.

Life for most humans in the future isn't much different than it is today. Sure, energy is abundant and you don't generally have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, but there are still jobs to do and bills to be paid. Corporations are even more massive, some are virtually stellar nations in their own right. These corps are split into various subsidiaries and are bought and sold almost constantly. Most people working for these companies rarely know exactly who they are working for, and frankly most don't care as long as the credits keep getting deposited. The biggest difference is that without the need to run to the grocery store or the gas station or bother with any number of "fixer-up" jobs, people have more time to devote to their hobbies or to entertainment. This is more pronounced on established worlds. Out on the colonies of the frontier, life can be a bit more focused on survival rather than catching up on the latest vid or working on perfecting your cloud painting technique.

The forms of entertainment are wide and varied, but they still tend to boil down to a few key areas: Movies ("vids" as they are called now), Games, Music, Art, Theater, Literature, and Sports. Whenever different cultures interact, there is an inevitable blending and sharing between the two; such has been the case since humanity was a collection of various tribes and city-states and so it continues to be now that humanity is part of a cosmopolitan galactic society. Not long after the humans and fraal joined forces, fraal art and music became all the rage on Earth. Even the fraal took to certain aspects of Terran culinary techniques and fashion. These blendings between cultures only increase further the more species are introduced into the mix.

Musical interests have always been nebulous and hard to predict. That is even moreso now. The music of the 24th century isn't that much different at its core compared to today, but the influences of other cultures and the exposure to new instruments and approaches to making music certainly have their effect. Not to mention the aspect of art imitating life. What would be likened to the Country music of today deals less with tractors and big-rigs, but rather with life on the stellar frontier. Still there is the elements of love, honor, heartbreak, and having a good time that are essentially timeless and are carried through into the 24th century.

The biggest change is how mankind has embraced its place on the galactic stage. Alien artists are booked and sell out packed arenas on Earth continuously. Earth isn't any different that most other members of the Concord, and partaking in the bounties of a shared society does have it's perks. It's nothing to go hear a Klingon opera one night and then a couple days later go hear an Ithorian singer open for the latest human diva.

Sports have been blended in much the same way. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey are still played even in the future. As more species become part of different societies, they also bring their sports with them or want to try their hand at the sports of the natives as well. There are various leagues to the "good ol' human games" throughout the Concord, though primarily in areas with larger human populations. There have been rules implemented by each league to mitigate injuries due to special circumstances of various species playing together and the prevalence of genetic modification and cybernetics. After all, it would be dangerous to play basketball with a 12 foot tall being that weighs half a ton. Sports, and gambling, are one of the main areas where humans quickly made in-roads in dealing with other species. If anything, humans love a contest. Vid sports channels on Earth and many Sol Alliance colonies carry a wide array of sports from many worlds. It's nothing to see a kid going to school with a ballcap of his favorite baseball club and the logo of his favorite alien sport team on his backpack.

Movies, television, and games are far easier to get immersed in. Virtual Reality became a reality in the early 22nd century. Holodecks followed about 50 years later. Vids are still largely shown on a 2d surface, but games are largely offered up only in VR. There are some vids, primarily sports, that are offered in VR, but few movies go to the expense to offer on that platform...except in the realms of, ahem, adult entertainment. Even the VR offerings for sports only offer choice seats, and don't allow the viewer to be in the game, unless they are playing a VR simulation.

Libraries are largely all digital. The wave we see now of moving away from physical mediums only continues in the future. The works of authors from across the Concord and beyond are available from most libraries. Plus, the digitizing of classic works from the whole of human history are available as well from most institutions. There are still libraries in the classical sense that seek to preserve the physical copies of books and scrolls, and the trade of these tomes is very active in both legal and illegal avenues. Libraries have largely merged on most worlds as getting from one side of a planet to another is nothing like it is today. It's nothing for someone living in Baton Rogue to spend and afternoon pouring over books at the Terran Library of History in New York and be back home by supper.

Art of many worlds is quite popular as well. The various art galleries in Rome, New York, Moscow house classic works of human artists to up-and-comers from the Terran colonies and members of the Concord as well. Much like the trade of literature, the sale of art is lively both legally and illegally, even moreso in most regards. The black market for antiquities both human and alien has been booming for some time now. This is one of the reasons that when ruins are discovered on alien worlds, the Concord does its best to try and protect the sites from plunderers looking to cash in on the history of a fallen species.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

International Tabletop Day

Happy International Tabletop Day! I hope you all were able to play (or are still playing) some game today. My 5-year old and I played some Talisman (4th edition) today, we're going to continue tomorrow. We started off with Castle Ravenloft, but he just' not quite ready for such a reading-intensive game just yet. He was really enjoying playing his knight for a while until he rolled a 1 on the City's Enchantress Table. Let's just say he wasn't happy about being turned into a Toad... My Troll wasn't faring much better as I kept drawing tough Psychic Combat encounters, which are really, really hard when you only start with 1 Craft.

While playing Talisman, I think I've found how I want to build my own dungeon crawler game. The mechanics will be very similar to Talisman. Characters start with a base score in four categories. These numbers can be raised (and lowered) by various means. These totals are added to a single D6 roll against a certain target number. Characters are built as static classes that can be modified a bit with the player's selection for the character's race. Characters won't level-up beyond the gear they get. This seems to fly in the face of what I've mentioned in other posts, but the way I have it working in my mind even spellcasting characters would get a chance to learn new spells that they find in the dungeon. After the dungeon, there will be events and places to visit that will offer more opportunities for stat changes.

There's still a mountain of details to iron out, but the way it's working out in my head is a game that has some depth, but still plays quick and easy like Heroquest. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

ADD Strikes Again

Thanks to all of the Diablo 3 I've been playing lately and my 5 year old interested in playing the D&D board games, I've been batting around the idea of building my own dungeon crawling game again. I've tried my hand at this a few times in the past, but it always seems to fall apart. This time however, I think I may be onto something. I'm going to use a parred down form of 4th Edition D&D. Why 4E? Well, it already plays very much like a tactical board game, so much so that I think WotC was onto something when they came out with Castle Ravenloft. So why not just play Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon/Legend of Drizzt? I do, and especially while my son gets his "sea legs", so to speak, I will continue to do so as the games are pretty easy to grok. However, my only real gripe with the games is that they simply aren't very deep. One of the reasons I love Warhammer Quest is that there are 10 levels of play. The D&D games really don't have a good set of campaign rules. There are variants up a Board Game Geek, but they only go so far. Plus, I've got a crap-ton of 4th Edition material collecting dust. I want to find a reason to get them down off the shelf!

D&D 4E does have some issues, however, that need to be ironed out. First off is speed of play. Combat in 4th edition can be a boring, drawn-out affair. It really doesn't need to be that way. Hit Point totals for characters and monsters will need to be reigned in. I'm not going the route of the board games and only having a hit point or two for HP totals, but there's no need (or fun) in hacking away at a beast with 500 hit points.

I'm tossing out skills...maybe. The focus of this game is largely going to be about killing things and taking their stuff. Plus, I intend to keep the co-op mode of play, so a lot of things are going to be essentially automated by the game. If skills still play a role in the game, the skill lists will be greatly truncated and probably won't play a huge role in the game.

Feats are possibly out as well. I need to do some more brainstorming on that.

So what will the characters consist of then? The six core stats, their gear, and their powers. Powers will break down as Class and Race powers, and those powers will break down into the usual At-Will, Encounter, and Daily groups. Daily powers can only be used once per adventure. I'm thinking of making each class start out at a static point (stats set, gear bought) with the player needing only to select a race and powers in order to start play. The character and race lists will likely be the standard fare.

Treasure will be random. Not sure how I'm going to do that yet, whether by cards or by charts...

I'm going to pull monsters in from the D&D board games, Hero Quest, Descent, D&D Minis, Warhammer Quest, and a few others I have in the collection. I want a game that will utilize what I have on hand.

As for dungeon generation, I'm not sure yet. I'll likely go with either Warhammer Quest's card and tile based system or with CR/WA/LoD's tile draw.

Not sure yet how I'd generate quests. I like Warhammer Quest's system, but it would have to be greatly expanded to to keep the game feeling fresh. I still need to ponder this.

So, is this just another idea doomed to failure? Probably, but I do think it could work.

Now, I realize I haven't posted much of anything about Mythic Space in a while. I promise to get back to that shortly. I've got a few posts in various stages of completion. I just haven't felt inspired to write much lately, and I really don't want to churn out crap for the sake of keeping up a post count. So never fear, sci-fi will return to this blog soon.