Eclipse City: Lost in the Drift

 

Over this past weekend I had the opportunity to run a single session Starfinder adventure at a good friend’s 50th birthday geekstravaganza. Since many of the folks who would be attending this event were folks who make it to the annual regional cons I Gamemaster at, I decided to run a follow up to the events of Carnage 2017’s Dropship Murphies and TotalCon 2018’s Eclipse Runners/Battle for Nebula City mini-campaigns.

 

When last we left our intrepid crew, they had managed to save Nebula City from a plot by the nefarious Azlanti Empire and become celebrities in the process. Unfortunately, the Azzies weren’t finished and attacked Nebula City with a small fleet. Nebula City’s merchants and mercenaries stood as a bulwark against the invaders while the local pirates of the Corsair Nebula sought to take advantage of the loser. In the end, the pirates sided with the defenders and repelled the Azlanti. But even as they did, Eclipse — the divinely powered Artificial Intelligence originally stolen by the Dropship Murphies — was able to move herself from the PCs’ ship to the core of Nebula City itself and it winked out of normal space, leaving all surviving ships in the lurch.

 

We picked up the story a month later. For thirty days the rechristened Eclipse City had been floating in the Drift. Eclipse herself seemed focused on finding something, though no one was sure quite what, and left it to the former Murphies/Runners to maintain order on the station. Despite the respect their previous heroics afforded them, they did not find it an easy task. With no way to get supplies or people on or off the station — Eclipse had made sure all the Drift capable vessels were out defending the station when she engaged the drive — old alliances, agreements and other faction relationships began to fray. And while the station was not yet in danger of starving or running out of air, luxuries were beginning to run low. On a city populated by rich merchants, powerful crime lords, and working stiffs that just want a good drink at the end of a long day, that was enough to heat the pot. It would not be long before it boiled over.

 

What’s more was a series of anomalies occurring on the station. People were reporting strange experiences and even half remembered visitations. Some unknown force seemed to be watching Eclipse City — or worse.

 

With all that background established, we got going. The PCs were sent to talk with the leadership of the Recycler’s Union which had begun favoring certain factions over others in providing recycled air and water. It became clear early in the interview process that the Recylcer’s weren’t bad guys but were responding to pressure put on them by other factions. Things looked like they might turn out peacefully, so that is when the vampires showed up. Among the gangs operating on the station, the vampires were poised to do the best as food, water and other consumables were used up. All they needed was an ever increasingly desperate population of cattle willing to send one another to slaughter. So they figured it would be easiest to take out the Recycler’s Union, and if they got the station’s only “cops” in the process, so much the better.

 

It was a short battle. Vampires might be sexy, and they might scare Victorian Gentlemen, but they are no match for jump jetting dwarves, invisible sniper androids, four armed Not-Jedi, giant lizard commandos or technomancer space elves.

 

After the cleanup — vampires always die messy, it seems — the party tried to get Eclipse to leave the Drift on account of the growing instability on the station but the AI was focused on her goal: direct communion with Triune somewhere in the Drift. Finding where that “somewhere” was probably would not take more than, say 1000 years, and she only really “needed” 27% of the station’s population when she got there anyway, so it was totally doable. The PCs began to rethink their loyalty to Eclipse at that point.

 

Before they could enact any plans, they discovered they were not alone on the station. And by “they” I mean “species native to the Prime Material Plane.” A race of psychic, big headed, big eyes, gray skinned beings with a penchant for reading your mind through your local GI tract had infiltrated the station and were trying to find a way to get to the engine core and Drift drive. When they finally managed to get one of the PCs — random rolls indicated the axe weilding dwarf Hoss Bloodhammer — they had the information they needed. The race was on to stop these alternate dimensional interlopers from stealing Eclipse City and dropping it out of the Drift into *their* Prime Material Plane space.

 

In the end the PCs faced down a group of aliens in Engineering and were able to defeat them. Using the alien plot in their argument, they also managed to convince Eclipse to leave the Drift for her own safety. Unfortunately no one, not even Eclipse, knew where into normal space the station would drop.

 

We’ll find out where at Carnage 2018.

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The River of Stone Flows to the Sky

It has been a while since I shared any fiction on this page. I was inspired to write the following story over the course of the last few weeks while doing some design and development work for Starfinder role-playing game projects (both personal and professional). So, yeah, it’s fan fiction. Enjoy!


The River of Stone Flows to the Sky

A (unofficial) Starfinder Story

By Ian Eller

 

Kukedth and Muxedth crouched on their bellies, keeping their heads low enough to be concealed by the patch of thorny braxis in which they hid. Kukedth’s tail twitched impatiently and the beater he held in his backhand swayed, rustling the braxis. Muxeth hissed at her clutchmate, her forked tongue almost touching his nose she was so close to him. “Quiet,” she whispered harshly, easily making as much noise as Kukedth had. Her own beater hovered motionless while her three arms fidgeted a little.

They hid in the braxis for what seemed to Kukedth a very long stretch. His belly scales spasmed now and again and he had to fight to keep his tail still. He occupied himself by stacking small stones, going for a tower taller than the last before it collapsed. Each time it did so Muxedth reproached him with her hiss and glare. “Hunting is patience,” their father had always said. He was right. Unfortunately, patience was a gift divine Eldaroph had not bestowed upon Kukedth.

Suddenly the waiting ended. The wulgot was a hundred spans away when it raised its furry head above the brown grass. Without a word, Kukedth and Muxedth were after it. As soon as it sensed their movement it bolted. Its single powerful hopper drove it forward while its two thin forelimbs helped it make sudden turns as it tried to evade the hunters. The creature had little hope of evading Muxedth, and none at all of outpacing Kukedth.

Kukedth’s spine went rigid and he became a missile. His three arms scrambled for purchase for the briefest moment before launching him forward at breathtaking speed. He seemed to fly over the rugged scrub and rock and grass covered plain, faster than any of his broodmates and indeed of any of his kind that he knew. Muxedth did not try to keep up. She knew better. Rather, the other hunter tracked the wulgot with her keen eyes and tongue and ran to intercept its escape route. She forced it to double back and allowed Kukedth to get ever closer.

The chase was for Kukedth unfairly brief compared to the long wait. He dared not toy with the thing, however. They were hungry and the meal was needed back at the camp. He moved faster and faster, turning with ease each time the wulgot changed direction. Finally he got close enough to bring his beater down on the creature. It was a glancing blow, but enough to send the furry beast sprawling in the dirt. Kukedth circled back to where it had fallen and took another swing. He missed, but before the wolgot could right itself and launch away Muxedth was there. Her beater stroke did not miss or glance. The wolgot’s skull caved in and the hunt was over.

With the chase done the two hunters returned to their bellies. They drew out their knives and quickly cleaned the wolgot corpse. They laughed and joked as they did so, heady with the euphoria of success. Once they had finished the wolgot was carried by Muxedth, who was significantly bigger and stronger than Kukedth — but also slower, Kukedth would always note.

The way back to camp was long. Lately game was sparser and sparser in the plains. Their father said it was because of a drought, but others said differently. They said it was because of the moonfolk and their massive stone eating towers. Even as they slithered back to camp Kukedth and Muxedth could see one of the towers in the distance. Even so far away they could feel the vibration in their belly scales as the thing ate the earth and belched stones into the sky on a river of blue light. It was no wonder, some said, the game had fled with that never ending hum in the earth. Others still suggested an even more sinister explanation: the moonfolk were hunting the wolgot and bengit birds and hroth themselves, stealing food right from the mouths of the people, just as they stole the stones from the earth.

Kukedth did not like to consider such things. To him, the moonfolk were wonders and he secretly desired to see them up close, to visit their strange towers, and perhaps even ride one of their magical conveyances into the sky.

***

Braddig looked through the scope, tracking the two slitherers as they, well, slithered across the plain. In his field of view, reticles hovered over the aliens’ heads. The reticles glowed green and Braddig touched the trigger anxiously.

“Hey,” said Nora-19 and gently pushed the barrel of Braddig’s sniper rifle up toward the sky.

Braddig swore. “You ruined my shot,” he said, but he did not try to find his targets again. “I was only calibrating the scope anyway.”

Nora-19 considered the young human. Her cybernetic eyes scanned him from his short cropped hair and scruffy chin, down his scratched and dented combat harness and all the way to his worn out boots he refused to replace no matter how many ugly worlds just like this one they tromped on. The android shrugged and said, “I know, but there is movement in the Azlanti camp.”

Braddig got serious immediately. He turned around and settled in behind his rifle and looked through the scope again. The hill on which the they crouched was dense with the nasty thorn bushes native to the nameless rock of a world. He and Nora-19 were well concealed. The Azlanti camp was located perhaps ten kliks away near the base of the massive mining rig. Through the scope he could see the Azlanti soldiers in their green armor shining in the sun like beetles. The scientists and officers, identifiable in more subdued uniforms, were moving around quickly but not frantically. Not an emergency. What then?

As if in answer the image in the scope went blurry. The ground beneath him vibrated so strongly he felt it in his bones.

“The drill is close to the mantle now,” said Nora-19. “They have extracted all the karicite they can within safety parameters.”

“I don’t suppose the Azzies are known for adhering to safety parameters, are they?” asked Braddig as he refocused the scope and increased the magnification.

“Sadly, no,” said the android with more than a little wistfulness in her tinny voice. “If they operate as they have in previous incidents, they will evacuate and allow the drill to continue to work until the mantle is breached.”

“And our weird three armed snake friends will get a big lava surprise.”

“Yes. The region will likely be uninhabitable for thousands of years.” Nora-19 crossed her legs and bowed her head. She whispered something Braddig could not make out, then looked up with an expression of concern on her blue face. “The mining structure intelligence tells me it has begun preparations to merge with Triune through the gateway that is Epoch.” Her tone was reverent but concerned. “I expect we have very little time.” Braddig did not know or care much about the android’s strange three souled god, but he could tell what she meant: death was coming.

Through the scope Braddig could easily see he was looking at an orderly evacuation. What was likely only essential equipment was being loaded onto the three heavily armed transports while personnel secured the site. There was no need to arm destruction sequences — something the xenophobic and imperious Azlanti were known for — since once the plasma drill breached the mantle it was all going to be slag anyway. “We did not bid this job nearly high enough,” he complained.

“And yet we accepted the offer nonetheless,” said Nora-19. “So let us earn our meager pittance.”

Braddig grunted, opened a secure channel to The Adamant Wanderer, their ship, and hailed the rest of the crew.

***

Logist Isaura paused momentarily as the tremor passed. The vibration of it was a queer feeling, crawling up her legs and through her gut and finishing behind her eyes. When it stopped she went back to swiping her datapad. Her eyes flitted swiftly and precisely from the datapad to the camp. She noted every movement of every soldier and scientist, every crate and loader drone. The information was passed instantly through her fingers to the datapad and from the datapad to orbit where the Indomitable Will of Azlant waited.

“Logist,” said one of the Aeon Guards at her side. His designation was ArZ-892. She knew this because she knew the assignments and current positions of all personnel assigned to the mining operation. What his name was, she could neither say nor be bothered to ask. She gave the slightest nod, indicating permission for him to continue. “Overwatch reports movement within the exclusion zone,” he said. “Analysis indicates ninety-four percent probability that it is one or more members of the indigenous population.”

Isaura suppressed a frown of annoyance. The Vice Admiral was either testing her ability to multitask, or attempting to sabotage her efficiency matrix. In either case, it was an unnecessary distraction from her actual duty: evacuating the mine site prior to mantle breech. Without looking up at the guard, she asked, “What is the status of the prisoner population?” She knew the answer, of course, but was curious if ArZ-892 did.

“Three critical, two stable and four dead,” he answered without hesitation. The corner of her mouth twitched. Two critical, two stable and five dead. ArZ-892 was operating on information more than two cycles old. She made a note in his file and then said, “Take a standard compliment and acquire prisoners if possible, additional biomass samples if not.”

He saluted and jogged away, his armor blazing emerald in the sunlight. Logist Isaura set an efficiency tracker for ArZ-892 and went back to her real work.

***

Oddgob made the squeaky whistling sound he always did whenever he was about to deliver bad news. “Bad news, boss man,” said the ysoki, furry ears and bald tail twitching. “That blip was an Azzie floater leaving the camp.”

Braddig swore. “Floater? You mean one of their armored transports? Is it heading our way?” He moved to lean over the console, jostling the smaller, mouselike tech out of the way.

Oddgob’s whiskers danced with irritation as he reasserted his position in front of the console. “No. It looks like it is heading toward the locals you saw.”

Braddig sighed with relief. “Great. Good.”

“Good?” asked Oddgob, Nora-19 and Zocrom in unison. The kasatha had been silent to that point, as usual, sitting cross legged with his four arms set in his meditative pose. His eyes were set hard on Braddig from the center of his grey skinned, elongated skull and something about the way the mystic brought his arms to his sides as he flowed to his feet made Braddig nervous.

“What?” said Braddig, raising his hands. “I just mean the Azzies aren’t on us, which would be bad, right? I mean, right?” He looked from one face to the next and saw nothing but impassive admonition. “Come on! Look, they are dead anyway if we can’t shut down the drill, right? And if we go getting ourselves shot dead in a fight with the Azzies, we won’t be able to stop the drill, right? So in a way, not saving them is saving them. See?” He searched their faces. He held out hope for three heartbeats before finally sighing, swearing and saying, “Fine. We’ll help.”

“Your heart speaks the wisdom your mind does not wish to accept,” said Zocrom in his infuriatingly obtuse way before the mystic moved to sit at a station. His four hands worked rapidly over multiple consoles and the ship began to come to life. Meanwhile, Oddgob scurried out of the cockpit and into the engineering compartment. Nora-19 did not move but her eyes turned an opaque blue and the team’s small ship lurched off the ground. “Prepare for low altitude contour flight,” said her voice from everywhere at once; Nora-19 was not just the pilot, she was, in almost every way that mattered, the ship itself.

Braddig shook his head as he dropped into the gunner’s station and strapped in. “This is a bad bet,” he muttered even as the giddy feeling of imminent combat rustled in his guts.

***

Kukedth flicked his long forked tongue out. The taste of low burning embers was on the air. The village was ready for what he and Muxedth — and all the other hunting pairs — had managed to get this day. Then he tasted something else. It was acrid and ozone and oil. It was coming from far off behind them, carried on the breeze, but growing stronger. He twisted to look past Muxedth, who was straining a little under the weight of their catch after such a long way.

“What?” asked his clutchmate.

“Moon people,” said Kukedth quietly and slowly. Something was not right. The scent was strengthening quickly. “They’re coming,” he said hesitantly and then suddenly added in a scream, “Go! Run!”

By the time the words were spoken the alien flyer was in sight. It came in fast and low. Kukedth had seen them before from far away but never like this. He suddenly felt quite like the wulgot, and like it he sprang into motion at the imminent attack by a predator. He stiffened and planted his three hands and bolted.

The alien flyer hugged the ground almost close enough to trim the grass and braxis. Its speed was incalculable and it went from a distant whisper on his tongue to looming over him in a blink. It shone like the carapace of a gharro wasp and seemed no more friendly. Kukedth tried to outrun the thing but it easily kept pace. It slid to fly beside him as he ran. It matched every swerve and dash he made. Then the side split open and ona  short ramp stood an alien for each of his hands, including the back one. They wore their strange green shells and held even stranger weapons. Kukedth very much took back all the thoughts he had ever thought about wanting to meet the aliens as they raised their weapons. He hoped they did not realize he was leading the flyer away from the village, and also he hoped Muxedth had kept going that way.

Pain coursed through Kukedth suddenly. A wide net of lightning bolts, impossibly small and organized, had emerged from one of the aliens’ weapons and wrapped around him. His stiff spine convulsed and his fast three arms faltered and he was tumbling in the scrub and earth. He wanted to get back up but could not. No part of his body was doing as he commanded it. Meanwhile, the alien flyer was slowing and turning, having passed him by when he fell. It was coming back at him and one of the aliens on the ramp was aiming a weapon at him.

“Get up,” he hissed at himself.

“Get up!” screamed Muxedth at him. He sighed sadly. She had not left him to return to the camp. Too bad.

The flyer loomed close. Kukedth and Muxedth coiled around one another, each one comforting the other while themselves terrified and distraught.

***

Braddig fired. The forward plasma cannon sent twin balls of roiling death at the Azlanti transport. The weapon was normally used in the vacuum of space where it could do no harm except to its target. In the open of this arid world, so near to the ground, the plasma bolts set the grass and the very air ablaze.

“Direct hit,” said Zocrom still working the controls at his station. “Their shields are down.”

“And their comms?” asked Braddig as he lined up a second shot.

Zocrom hesitated only a heartbeat. “Still jammed. Unless the attack is under optical observation the Azlanti will not know of our intervention for the time being.”

“Nora,” yelled Braddig, “what does the drill have to say?” Even as he spoke he let loose with another barrage from the plasma cannons.

Nora’s voice came from all directions. “The mining intelligence refuses to discontinue its operations. It has embraced its fate to merge with Triune.”

Braddig swore and muttered, “Zealots,” before asking for a report from Zocrom. “The Azlanti ship is disabled and will likely lose reactor containment.”

“So, good news, bad news,” said Braddig. “Oddgob? Do we have time to–”

The ysoki interrupted over the in-ship comm unit. “Yes, yes, but only if we stop wasting time.”

“Okay,” said Braddig, “Nora, get us over there.”

“Aye,” the android spoke through the ship’s internal speakers.

***

ArZ-892 was named Orius Valden, after his grandfather. When the first plasma bolts hit the transport — he knew the sound and the electromagnetic signature that appeared on his heads up display — he was ejected and flew forty yards onto the rocky ground. His armor absorbed most of the impact, but he had landed with his left leg folded beneath him. Even the advanced polymers of the Imperial Foundry could protect him from a dislocated hip. His blaster was lost, thrown far from him by the impact.

He tried to call for help but something was jamming his communications with the base. This was not a surprise since they had been ambushed by what must have been an enemy starship — this planet’s aboriginal inhabitants were nomadic barbarians with neither the magical, alchemical nor technological capabilities to take down an Azlanti transport. He guessed the attackers were Pact World heretics, and when he saw their vessel he knew he was right.

He was too far away to fight, even though he still had a grenade at his disposal. Uninjured he would not have been able to throw the explosive so far. He watched as the sleek Pact World vessel — it bore no insignia, so he guessed they were mercenaries — slid in front of his own crippled transport. A kasatha came out the ramp and managed to coerce the two snake aliens into the ship before it turned and sped away in the direction of the drill rig.

Valden snorted with bitter amusement. He did not know if he hoped the mercenaries would fall prey to the cold, impenetrable Logist Isaura or if they would destroy her.

It did not matter. His time was up. His last thought as the reactor breached on the transport was simply, “Hail Azlant.”

***

That the transport had lost communication with the mining base had been a concern and a mystery. It stopped being the latter when a miniature sun appeared on the horizon to the east.

Logist Isaura clenched her jaw and stopped swiping over her datapad. Already the voices were filling her mind: panicked scientists, angry soldiers, admonishing officers. She did what she almost never did: she turned them off. Just for a moment, a brief handful of seconds of silence in her augmented brain in order to center herself. It did not work. She found no focus, no place to stand — mentally speaking — where the ground did not shift beneath her. With a resigned sigh, she opened all the channels again. The same noises. It was all going to fall apart. Her training told her that. She straightened her shoulders and handed the datapad to one of the Aeon Guard beside her. Her duty, however, told her that she could hold it together, that she must.

She immediately sent commands through the AzlaNet of the outpost, giving each squad commander and department manager their orders. As she did she tagged them and their subordinates and applied automatic demerits for any deviation from her orders. Within seconds the chaos that had followed the destruction of the transport ebbed. Order reasserted itself. The evacuation was not only back on schedule but was significantly accelerated. She broadcast that information to the vessel in orbit but did not open communications. She did not have time to explain basic logistics to men who had come by their rank via lineage and inheritance. There was real work to be done.

Now the difficult part: “MU-975gamma,” she thought, initiating a secure neural connection to the mining unit clockwerk mind. When she sensed the connection had been made but received no reply, she thought, “MU-975G, provide all current data regarding operations.”

“I am sorry Logist Isuara,” the artificial intelligence responded in her mind, “but my primary and secondary processors are engaged in final upload to Triune. I cannot comply.”

Isaura gritted her teeth but restrained herself from thinking insults at the mining intelligence. To do so would be inefficient and Isaura had no time to waste. “MU-975G, provide a precise assessment of time remaining to mantle breach.”

“Eleven point three eight seven minutes… now,” it replied.

She disconnected. It was not enough time to save everything, but she made a few adjustments to her orders and ensured all high priority items would be on transport in just over nine minutes. That would leave two minutes with which to deal with the terrorists and alien sympathizers — more than enough time.

***

Kukedth was in awe. The interior of the flyer was even more wondrous that it appeared from the outside. It was all polished steel and glowing crystals and panes of black glass etched with ever moving script. Among Kukedth’s kind, writing was a rarity, glass and steel were treasures and glowing crystals were thing of myth and legend. The magic of the alien flyer made him momentarily forget about his physical pain and his anguish at the near loss of Muxedth. His clutchmate was curled up on the cold steel floor, coiled on herself like a frightened hatchling. The alien attack and now this alien ship seemed too much for her.

“Be comforted, please.” The strange four armed humanoid was speaking in an unknowable tongue but the homespeak words emanated from all around intoneless, hesitating echoes. “You and your other are made safe now. To your home you will be taken in the next time that is soon.”

Another of the humanoids yelled something from his seat and the disembodied voice said, “Expletive.” The four armed one spoke and the ship said, “Please secure your body with the provided straps. There will likely be discomfort.”

Suddenly inertia threw Kukedth to one side, then another, and the sitting humanoid released more expletives while working the controls. The four armed one stopped paying attention to Kukedth and Muxedth and focused on its own controls. The ship shuddered and dropped so Kukedth’s stomach twisted even as he and Muxedth lifted off the floor briefly. After slamming down hard, Kukedth scanned his surroundings desperately until he found the safety straps the alien had indicated and after a few heartbeats fumbling figured out how to secure himself and his clutchmate.

The ship swerved and jerked and shuddered and skipped. Its alien crew worked hard at the controls and yelled at each other while they worked their controls. Kukedth stretched his torso to see what was happening and immediately regretted it: the great forward viewing wall showed a landscape spinning and undulating, with a simultaneous view embedded showing the same landscape from the opposite direction while shining green alien ships bobbed and weaved and sent bolts of iridescent fire screaming after the ship he was on.

Kukedth curled up tight against Muxedth. He took it all back. He did not wish to know anything of these aliens, their ships or the stars.

***

“Three point nine four nine minutes… now,” answered the mining intelligence.

Logista Isaura watched the last of the defense fighter spin out of control and crash into the landscape ina  white hot ball of plasma and she swore. She momentarily diverted her attention to the data feed from her implant. She preferred the organizational control over the datapad but in this situation ever fraction of a second counted. The transports would get away but the Pact World terrorists would have time to disable the drill.

She calculated quickly then broadcast, “Move parcels seven seven three to eight three eight to transport prime. Transport beta switch to combat configuration and prepare for interception.” She stalked in the direction of the ships. For only a brief moment she considered whether to board transport prime and escape into orbit. With some regret she dismissed the idea: Indomitable command would certainly see it as a failure, a flight from danger, rather than an attempt to personally oversee delivery of the most important research samples. No, she would have to board the transport turned interceptor and see it through to the bitter end.

By the time she reached transport beta the other ship had taken off. Those personnel that were not high enough priority to ride the transports were fleeing from the mining camp as fast as their legs would take them. Isaura tried not to envy them as she mounted the transport and ordered it aloft.

***

“I am ready,” said the mining intelligence. “I have uploaded my soul.”

Nora-19 responded, “Good. I wish you well on your journey.” Then, after something like a psychic embrace with MU-975G, Nora flicked back to the the immediate physical world and reported, “The drill has moved to full automation. You are clear to destroy it, Braddig.”

“Well , thanks for that!” shouted the human. “To be honest, though, I wasn’t waiting for permission, just a clear shot!”

The landscape rose and fell, twisted and turned. Braddig kept his focus while Nora-19 maneuvered, dodging anti-aircraft fire and trying to keep orbital weapons from getting a lock. “I am going to need some serious overcharge to get through that shielding,” Braddig shouted.

“Redirecting from shields now,” squeaked Oddgob through comms. “Better keep up out of reach, Nora.”

Zocrom’s steady, comforting tones came after: “Worry not,” he said, “I am impressing upon the Azlanti the futility of their actions and the imminence of their dooms should they not flee now.”

Braddig snorted. The kasatha had a nice, long winded way of not saying the word “taunt.” “Okay,” Braddig said, “enough chatter. Just get me a shot, Nora, and–”

The Adamant Wanderer shuddered and pulled hard to port. The whole ship range like a bell, loud enough to make Braddig’s eyes ache. Lights flashed and alerts sounded and Nora-19, Oddgob and the console in front of him all shouted at him what he already knew: starboard shields were down.

“One of the Azlanti transports is attacking us,” said Zocrom. Concern had leaked into the serene calm of his voice.

“Time?” demanded Braddig. Nora answered and he swore. It wasn’t enough, not to dogfight an Azlanti armored transport and take out the drill rig. He wanted to order the android to burn for orbit and get the hell out of there, but he knew she would not comply. “Alright,” he said as he switched his station to aft view and weapons control. “Nora, get us to the target as fast as you can. See if you can’t get the Azzies to back off or crash into something.”

“I will do my best,” said Nora-19, then, “Oddgob full power to aft shields.” The ysoki squeaked his assent.

Zocrom was saying something. The mystic never shut up. It was encouragement and wisdom, but Braddig pushed it out of his mind and focused on the pursuing ship. It was a transport, not a fighter, so it was big and clumsy, but tough. Nora swooped and turned and dove, keeping the Wanderer safe from the transport’s plasma cannons and missiles. Meanwhile, Braddig laid one coil gun round into the transport after another. It didn’t even flinch. It might be a lumbering ox in the air, but it was as tough as one. He did not have the ammunition nor the time to take it down like this.

“Okay, guys,” he shouted over comms, “new plan.”

***

“For the love of the Emperor just shoot them down already!” she screamed at the gunner.  She could feel the heat in her face and hear the blood in her ears. “Yes, Logist Isuara,” answered the gunner in an even tone with his eyes locked on the console viewscreen in front of him. The rest of the bridge crew stared pointedly at their stations.

Isuara took a deep breath and stepped back from the gunner station. The red in her face deepened, but this time it was out of embarrassment rather than rage. She was not the type to lose her temper, especially in front of subordinates. If she could not think clearly she could not do her job correctly, and deep emotions — love and hate and rage and fear — were the death of clear thought. She released the breath and said, calmly, “Continue firing. Their luck cannot hold forever.” She turned her attention to the pilot. “We can’t outmaneuver them,” she said, “and they know that. They cannot fly forever, and we know that. Determine their goal and beat them to it.”

“As you order, Logist,” replied the pilot.

The crewman at the sensor station said, “The mercenary ship is continuing to transmit, Logist.”

“Is it the same philosophical tripe?” she asked. The crewman nodded and Isuara said, “Then continue to ignore it.”

The enemy ship was wasting a lot of forward momentum dodging weapons fire, which allowed the slower transport to match speed without having to divert energy from the shields. Good thing, too: their gunner was frightening accurate with that aft coil gun. Hunks of metal accelerated to a small but significant fraction of light speed were particularly terrifying in atmosphere. On her datapad, Logist Isuara scanned through telemetry data while simultaneously watching the feed from orbit. When the Pact World ship suddenly changed course, she knew exactly what was happening and why, but before she could change her standing orders, it was over.

***

Nora-19 drew the Azlanti transport closer. It struck as oddly similar to how biological species engage in seduction: come close, show vulnerability, dash out of reach just for a moment but then fall back, let the kiss almost land. Before the Azlanti knew it, they were in her embrace.

“Now?” asked Braddig.

“Now,” answered Nora. “Oddgob, all power to inertial dampeners.”

Nora-19 let her consciousness become the ship. She was flying near the drilling machine, now just another empty shell devoid of a soul. She had drawn the Azlanti close and had shown them a tantalizing opportunity. Suddenly she whirled and dove. At the back of her mind she was vaguely aware of her body pressed hard against her restraints as the artificial gravity tried to keep them all from cracking under the sudden shift in momentum. Out her in the sky, however, she was unencumbered.

The Azlanti transport tried to match her course but it was too cumbersome. As expected it scraped against the body of the drill rig and then started to spin. Nora suddenly cut thrust and they were all weightless for a moment. As soon as the Azlanti ship had spun past them, Braddig fired the forward plasma cannons. It felt like something personal and pleasurable perhaps even a little obscene to Nora, inhabiting the whole ship as she was.

The plasma bolts struck home, targeting the Azlanti power core. Uncontrolled and bleeding fusion reaction, it became their missile. Nora-19 thrust as hard as she could for the sky. When the enemy ship’s core breached and it, the drill rig and the mining camp were consumed in a white hot orb, the Wanderer was barely outside the death zone.

***

Kukedth was happy to be back on the ground, and would be even happier to never leave it again. His insides still felt as though they were being shoved this way and that as the aliens’ flyer turned and tumbled in the sky. Muxedth was awake, but groggy and by her expression he guessed that she felt much the same.

The giant machine was a blazing ruin in the distance. By the way the aliens seemed pleased with themselves this must have been the desired result. He shuddered to think what the alternative might have been.

The four armed alien bowed toward them and said, “You have reached safety. The — something incomprehensible — are to be gone. With hopefulness they will not be returned.” The alien bowed again and turned and left Kukedth and Muxedth to sit in the tall grass.

As the ship rose into the air and increased speed until it was no longer visible, Kukedth curled himself comfortingly around his clutchmate. Together they looked across the plain to where the cook fires rose from their camp. He could just make out members of the clan slithering their way.

Kukedth sighed. There would be much to tell but perhaps for a few minutes he could rest in the sun.

 

The End

TotalCon Post Mortem: Eclipse Runners

The past weekend was TotalCon 32, the biggest and best gaming convention in New England! As I mentioned prior to the con, I spent the weekend running Starfinder — The Eclipse Runners, a sequel to the Dropship Murphies mini-campaign of Carnage 20 (the OTHER best gaming convention in New England).

 

Par for the course I had a great group of players, some sitting for all 5 RPG sessions (plus one massive space combat session) and some just dropping in for a single session. Unlike previous games of this type, the cast of characters remained completely static — 8 seats, 8 pre-generated PCs the entire time. This provided a strong narrative through-line, but at the same time made for a lot of info-dump for single session players later in the game. I am not completely sold on doing it this way in the future, but we shall see.

Eclipse Runners took place in the ruin filled, pirate plagued Corsair Nebula The ship was based out of Nebula City, an independent space station home to everything from organized crime families to Pact World tax-dodging corporations to mining collectives. The station’s 200,000 soul population included representatives of every species in the Starfinder core rules and Alien Archive and beyond. And because the station is willfully independent of governmental control, there is no law except that which Nebula City provides for itself — and that means lots of work for the likes of the crew of the Eclipse.

 

Bramble: nimble ysoki mechanic. Yamato: hard hitting vesk soldier. Niki: cool and calculating android operative. Taristh: indomitable kasatha solarion. “Captain” Chazz: silver tongued human envoy. Meera: genius lashunta technomancer. Keskodai: wise shirren mystic. “Hoss” Bloodhammer: unstoppable dwarf juggernaut. And of course Eclipse herself, the semi-divine AI inhabiting the former dropship.

 

The adventures began with a choice: fly out to save some miners whose ship had been impacted by an asteroid, or loot an ancient temple tumbling through the void on the surface of a chunk of a long ago destroyed planet. If you have been paying attention, it is probably pretty easy to guess where the Eclipse was off to.

They discovered the temple was full of undead (big surprise there) and valueless treasure (oops) but they did take a strange sarcophagus onto their ship (what?) but did not open it (whew) before selling it for a few thousand credits (yay!) to a member of the Corpse Fleet (it’ll be fine).

 

Next they were hired to escort an academic science vessel to a planet full of strange ancient alien technology. What could go wrong? The planet ended up being infested with graboids and the researcher in charge did not need an escort so much as a mobile power unit shaped like a ship. The treacherous professor tried to use the graboids to kill the PCs but was outsmarted by Meera and was herself fed to the graboids. It turned out the ancient alien tech the professor wanted to activate was a Stargate network that would have likely made the Drift obsolete. Meera convinced the grad students to work for the Eclipse Runners and planned on making use of the technology themselves.

In order to do so, though, they would have to build Eclipse a walking around body, since the AI only ever entered the ship in the first place to be able to explore the stars. Weird, then, that she seemed totally happy living in Nebula City for over a year, right?

 

After their success at the Stargate planet,the party decided on a little R&R in a dance club called Oontz Oontz. And isn’t it always the way — you go out to get your Travolta on and two powerful angels tasked with controlling mortal access to high technology show up and demand you turn over your AI friend to them. Well, it is always the way with the Eclipse crew. Anyway, the Runners politely declined with high caliber weapons fire and explosions. The angels were sent back upstairs but not before they threatened righteous vengeance. And then the owner kicked them out for breaking some lights.

While on the way home to sleep off their intoxicoontz, they noticed some miners walking around with a lot more military bearing than one would expect from rock hoppers. They weren’t just any rock hoppers, either — they were crew members of the mining vessel that the Eclipse Runners had declined to save back in session one. Long story short: the miners were actually members of an Azlanti cell hoping to sabotage Nebula City. Their means of sabotage was especially insidious: move a whole bunch of Swarm eggs into the maintenance tunnels and let them hatch. I think you have all seen the movie that comes next.

 

Luckily the PCs were able to discover and thwart the plot. I amy have failed to mention up to this point that the Eclipse Runners were not especially subtle about their adventures. In fact, they made an effort to be very public: SpaceBook live feeds, Instagamma posts and Go-Pro’s mounted to the barrels of rifles and the heads of axes and hammers. Did you know taking a selfie with a defeated enemy was a swift action? So, upon saving everyone on the station from a horrible death at the mandibles of overgrown prawns, the crew was suddenly famous and beloved.

 

Now installed in really nice digs with a premium berth for Eclipse, the crew is ready to enjoy the high life. That’s when a goblin named Mur shows up in Bramble’s quarters and begs for help: as part of their plan to install the Swarm eggs in the maintenance shafts, the Azlanti needed to eliminate the goblins that infest those areas. So they released something squamous which made a habit of eating a goblin, joining the corpse with other technology it had consumed, and shitting it out as a cybernetic zombie. Having seen the PCs on the holovidtelenetfeedchannels, Mur took it upon herself to convince them to save the remaining goblins. Once they were in his “throne room” her father the goblin king (who looked nothing like David Bowie save for the really tight pants) was inclined to offer them a reward: the location where the Azlanti had stowed all of their gear for when they came to clean up after the Swarm had eaten the station populace.

 

The PCs made relatively short work of the thing  (which turned out made great grenades if you could scrape it up without hurting yourself) and went off to claim there reward. Along the way they discovered the Azlanti had used small drones to create a real time virtual map of the entire station maintenance system. Whether any Azlanti were still watching it was uncertain.

Funny story: it turns out one of the things the Azlanti stowed was a massive ancient warbot full of chain guns and bad vibes. There was some question of whether to and how to go about dealing with it, but finally Hoss Bloodhammer’s simple philosophy of “I ain’t got time to bleed” won out. The machine was full of piss, vinegar and bullets and nearly killed Bloodhammer but in the end the smooth operative Niki put it down. On the live feed, of course. Top five “likes” in Spacebook history.

After they cleaned out the Azlanti stowed gear and chucked the potentially regenerative war machine into a nearby black hole, the PCs were summoned by the powers that be. Upon arriving to the meeting, they were asked via paper note (PAPER!) to shut down all their comms. It turned out the station Steward was scared to death that Eclipse might overhear the meeting — in which he told the party he was scared to death of Eclipse and could they please ask their pet godlike AI to stop infecting station systems, if it isn’t too much trouble please don’t shoot me. It was weird the way Eclipse was fine with living on the station when all she had wanted to do before was explore the galaxy, wasn’t it?

 

Aaaaannnnyway, there was no time to deal with that, since a fleet of Azlanti capital ships were about to drop out of the Drift and attack the station! All the machinations to sabotage the station had been in preparation of an invasion that was happening right now!

That was the end of the regular, role-playing elements. The final Sunday morning session was The Battle For Nebula City, in which eight players commanding about 30 ships (including the bad guys played by me) fought for the future of the station while a Mysterious Countdown promised something ominous. One third of the ships were pirates, come to take advantage of the chaos, one third were ships mounting a defense for the station and one third were Azlanti. The defense vessels offered the pirates amnesty for helping defend the station but most declined and turned their guns on the defenders while the Azlanti tore into them as well. Soon, though, the pirates realized they weren’t going to make out much better in the end and joined the defenders. Through focused fire and a significant reduction in player assholery, the day was won and an Azlanti ship was crippled. With the Azlanti flagship in dire straights itself and the third well on its way, the Azzies decided to leave and return with a greater force to take Nebula City.

 

Which would probably have worked had the countdown not reached zero and Eclipse had not taken over the station systems and turned it into a massive Drift capable vessel. The defending ships and pirates were left to float in the Void as Eclipse took her crew plus 200,000 people on a magical mystery tour.

 

The End. Well, until Carnage 21, November 2-4 in Killington VT, anyway.

 

To TotalCon!

It’s that time of year again! TotalCon is upon us and this year I am running an inordinate amount of Paizo’s Starfinder Space Fantasy Space Opera game. It’s half D&D in Space, half Guardians of the Galaxy, and half Destiny, with a side of EVERYTHING ELSE.

 

After the Con I will have some very, very big news regarding Starfinder and a certain writer and sometimes game designer you may know. Until then — go Find some Stars!

Nebula City

As we close in on TotalCon 32, I will be teasing my Starfinder mini-campaign: Eclipse Runners. It is a sequel to the mini-campaign I ran at Carnage called The Dropship Murphies.

This time, instead of operating out of the berth of the mercenary heavy cruiser Void Adamant, our heroes are holed up in Nebula City.

Nebula City is a large, independent space station habitat located in the Corsair Nebula (so named because of its higher than usual population of pirates — which itself is due in no small part to the presence of Nebula City). The Corsair Nebula is the million year old remains of a vibrant trinary system caught off guard when its primary star went nova. The dozen or so planets that remain are scoured of life but boast numerous ruins of a once magically advanced civilization. Treasure hunters to these ruins are as often the targets of pirates as trading vessels to Nebula City.

Nebula City was established two hundred years ago by a consortium of merchant houses from both the Pact Worlds and the Vast. They were quickly followed by corporations, guilds, mercenary companies and smugglers and black marketeers. Over the centuries Nebula City has grown into an impressive center of wealth and corruption. The Pirates of the Corsair Nebula prefer it as much as the criminals inside the domes do: there is no police force except what Nebula City itself can raise, and its factions are too divisive to come together and form a coherent government. As such, both bounties on pirates as well as bounties paid to pirates on a business rival’s vessels are common.

Finding work in Nebula City is easy, whether you fix power converters or break kneecaps. From the Council of Thirteen that keeps the place functional enough so everyone can turn a profit, to small gangs that control the drug trade in one housing block, everyone is looking to hire muscle or patsies. This isn’t to suggest there are not legitimate businesses in Nebula City — there are, and many of them. But they need protection and aid as much or more than the criminals.

Nebula City also boasts the most discreet docks and maintenance facilities in the Vast. If you need repairs or a home base or both — and you aren’t a Corsair, of course — you can have it in Nebula City and no one will ever know you were there (for a price, of course).

Next time I will talk more about the party ship, the Eclipse Runner itself, and the who, what, where and how things came to be.

Dropship Murphies Post Mortem

The Dropship Murphies are Gone! Long Live the Eclipse Runners!

 

Okay, that’s going to take some explaining.

 

Another Carnage on the Mountain in Killington, Vermont is in the bag. As usual I ran a multi-session episodic adventure, this time using Starfinder, the brand new space fantasy follow up to Pathfinder by Paizo, Inc. It is a new game and as such it was a bit rockier than my usual runs, but overall the experience was good.

 

For reference, the basic setup was this: the PCs represent the dropship crew of a vessel called the Void Adamant, captained by one Bolg Murphy. Hence “Dropship Murphies.” He was the kind of guy that would take almost any job — eradicating settlers on a colony world seems to be the line he won’t cross for work, but almost anything up to that goes.  The players characters consisted of mostly the Starfinder Society pre-gens from Paizo and a few graciously provided by a friend of mine. They were all 4th level and every session had all 8 player slots filled except the last, which had 7. Most players had working knowledge of Pathfinder and a few had some experience at least reading Starfinder. Many players were those who I see every year at my table — which is awesome! I love you guys! — with a few new faces.

 

The first session was by far the  weakest, due to me preparing too well. That’s going to sound strange unless you know my GMing style. I am usually a pantser (that is, “flying by the seat of my pants”) but I have been running Starfinder for my weekly Fantasy Grounds group in the lead up to Carnage. On the upside, this let me get used to Starfinder as a system, with its minor but important variations from both Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons 5e (with which I am much more familiar). On the downside, I had only 4 to 6 players per session for those online games, which may have skewed my perspective. In any case, I ran an adventure I had done for my regular group — a space western style story with a shady mine owner, green martians and angry unions — and it did not survive the transition to 8 players so well. There just wasn’t enough for each player to do in a largely investigation based adventure like that. It was a little disheartening, to be honest, but also illuminating. I knew I had a lot of work to do during the dinner break before the second session since most of my prepared material had been based on experiences from that weekly group.

 

Here’s a thing: I am good at and like improvising when it comes to RPGs, but unfamiliarity can be a wrench in my creative gears. Because Starfinder has so much that it new in it — both in regards to setting and rules mechanics — it was stretching my pantsing skills to the limit. That said, all the following sessions went much better. For most of that I reckon I can thank my wonderful players. As I said, a lot of them are there every year and they are enthusiastic, forgiving and provide me with lots of opportunity to ricochet ideas off them.

 

In the second session, the Murphies accompanied an elven research vessel intending to observe a stellar dragon hatch from a white dwarf. That process attracted some void sharks — yes, ship scale sharks that live in space — and during the ensuing combat the elven vessel was damaged. Upon the initial travel to the site of the hatching the PCs had noted an unusual method of interstellar travel by the elven ship and they found out the reason: the elves kept an efreet bound in their engine core and forced it to use its wish powers to make them travel interstellar distances. Yes, I did call this adventure “n’djinn trouble.” Why do you ask? Anyway, once the efreet was free it took its revenge on the elven crew, murdering them and turning them into horrible void zombies, and the Murphies had to save the lone survivor before the dragon hatched. That was probably the most fun session of the weekend.

 

In the next adventure the Murphies were tasked with recovering an extremely advanced AI — built by the church of Triune — from pirates that had it (but didn’t know what they had). While the Void Adamant drew the pirate ships away from the base, the PCs flew in, dealt with some smart mines protecting the base, and breached. They were actually pretty successful this time, sweeping room by room of pirates, collecting some booty of their own and finally forcing the pirate captain to hand over the AI core or else. This mission did not go sideways until they got back on to the dropship and the android pilot decided to make contact with the AI. It turned out that the AI did not want to go back to Church of Triune and spend eternity doing divine calculations. After some tense negotiations that included the AI turning off the dropship’s inertial dampeners and slamming uncooperative Murphies around the cockpit, the AI merged with the dropship and turned it into a Drift capable vessel. With the words, “Let’s go exploring,” it initiated a Drift effectively forcing the party to steal both the dropship from Murphy and the AI from the Temple of Triune.

 

I should not here that this was one of those moments in these games I love. I literally had no idea what I was going to do next, but I presented the PCs with the option of “freeing” the AI just to see what would happen. And happen it did.

 

The dropship was not made for long term travel. The PCs were eating ration bars and stinking up the cargo hold when the AI — now calling itself “Eclipse” (you can see where this is going) — found a strange, almost song-like signal emanating from the Prime Material Plane into the Drift. Drawn by its power, the dropship emerged into normal space to find a massive Sargasso Sea of hulks and wrecks orbiting a central point. Living in the ship graveyard was a kilometer long worm, surviving off the radiation from a nearby Red Dwarf-Black Hole binary system as well as the ships themselves. At the same time, the song kept Eclipse from fleeing via the Drift and the same force was rapidly draining their power reserves. Eventually they would end up a drifting hulk as well unless they could solve the mystery. Through some clever technobabble — one of the reasons I love space opera and science fantasy so much — they managed to avoid getting eaten by the worm and find the source of their problems: a powerful fey not unlike a siren of deep space lived at the center of the wrecks. Despite its ability to mind control both the android and the mechanic’s drone, the Murphies were able to defeat it. Once it was dead power returned to their engine core — along with the engine cores of all the other ships. Unfortunately, none of those had shielding remaining and they started to go off like fire works. The dropship beat a hasty retreat to the Drift.

 

That was Saturday night and, frankly, it would have been a perfectly decent cap to the story of the Dropship Murphies for Carnage XX. The last session was scheduled for 1 PM on Sunday and I had kind of figured I would have some no shows. As such I figured maybe I would just do a big space combat game with whoever happened to walk by, since that part of Starfinder is pretty fun and doesn’t need a lot of context. I did decide to sketch out an adventure just in case I did have a full table. Good thing that, since everyone was there except one.

 

Nebula City is a large space station of about one million inhabitants situated on what I call the Verge — an area of the Vast that serves as a kind of border between the space-Nazi Azlanti Empire, the Veskarium of that lizard-klingon race, the relative civilization of the Pact Worlds and uncharted regions of space. It is neautral, with independent operators, powerful corporations, crime cartels and the Azlanti all vying for positions. After getting attacked by some renegade Vesk pirates once out of the Drift, the Eclipse (now the name of both the ship and the AI at its core) docked in a seedy part of town (less likely to report their arrival, since at this point they are running from the Church of Triune and the Void Adamant). Their plan is to get the ship upgraded to be more Drift comfortable and find some work. To that end they make contact with a Witchwyrd — a member of an ageless species of traders and hucksters — named Ahkimetakoka and hope to strike a deal.

 

Here’s where I had a silly adventure involving goblins in the maintenance tunnels and ventilation shafts all prepared. They didn’t take the bait. Instead, they asked a lot of questions, some too loudly, and during a no-armor fancy dinner with Ahki the Azlanti tried to kill the Witchwyrd (and the PCs along with him). Loose lips sink PC groups. Luckily the PCs survived even without most of their gears and in protecting Ahkimetakoka they earned a reasonably powerful patron.

And that is where we left it. At Total Confusion this year, we will pick up the tale of the Eclipse Runners.

 

in a future post, I will talk about running Starfinder from a rules perspective and what I intend to do regarding some issues I have with the system.

 

In the meantime, buy my book. ;)

 

Prepare For Drop!

T-minus ten days to drop. All hands to stations. Incoming!

CarnageCon, the annual tabletop gaming convention held at Killington Resort, Vermont, is imminent. This year, after the summer release of the science-fantasy RPG Starfinder from Paizo, Inc., my usual extended adventure takes place amidst asteroids, space pirates and void kraken.

The player characters are the tough as nails “away team” of the Void Adamant. The Adamant is a heavy cruiser, retrofitted for everything from hauling ore to surveying planets to fighting space pirates. Captain Bolg Murphy plies his trade in the Vast, far away from the civilized “Pact Worlds” where the only thing less common than rules of engagement is the tax man. Sometimes, though, you can’t nuke it from orbit and that’s where the PCs come in:

They are the Dropship Murphies. Highly skilled, questionably motivated and utterly expendable, the Murphies serve as the captains eyes, ears, hands and (when necessary) guns on strange worlds, salvaged hulks and unidentifiable alien mega-structures.  Over the course of five slots from Friday to Sunday, the Murphies will drop in and endeavor to get out before whatever can go wrong, does.

Starfinder Impressions

A week after returning from a record setting GenCon, laden with all the Starfinder books Paizo saw fit to print, I have had a chance to do both some deep reading and some actual play. This post serves as a follow up of the previous post, which contained my thoughts based on initial skimming.

 

First, the rules: Starfinder is very much “Pathfinder in SPAAAAAaaaace” both mechanically and narratively. Even casual Pathfinder RPG players will have no trouble picking up and playing Starfinder. There are a few stark differences — how ability scores and hit points are calculated, for example, and the way Attacks of Opportunity and combat maneuvers work — but they are exceptions that prove the rule. If you can play Pathfinder, you can play Starfinder. Just be sure to check for small differences before you assume. There are a lot of minor tweaks that definitely suggest a potential revision and clean up of the Pathfinder rules (who knows if such a thing is in the works) and it is easy to miss the small details. If, like me, you have played a lot more Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition over the last few years than Pathfinder, you will have to both unlearn some 5E rules and relearn some Pathfinder/Starfinder ones. I already miss Advantage/Disadvantage, but I am dedicated to playing Starfinder by the book for a while before I go tinkering with it.

The characters: My players took a solid couple hours creating characters. We play on Fantasy grounds and were using the PFSRD ruleset for that platform. It wasn’t perfect and we had to do some googling to see how others had handled certain things (for example: Starfinder has two armor class types and two different sorts of hit points) but we managed. There was lots of digital page flipping of the core rulebook PDF. I wish the table of contents and index at least were hyperlinked, but alas we had to make due with the search function. Inevitably there will be Starfinder SRD to match the wonderful Pathfinder one, which will make finding specific rules and things much more efficient. No one opted to play either a mystic or technomancer during this initial playtest — perhaps spellcasting classes were a little intimidating not in relation to the game but to trying to code information into Fantasy Grounds — and the mouse like ysoki were over represented. Maybe my players just like rodents. Who knows. In any case, Starfinder characters are comparable to their Pathfinder counterparts in terms of capability and versatility, with a little more built in survivability given the addition of Stamina Points on top of Hit Points.

 

Fighting: While the players built their characters, I input (what else) Space Goblin stats into Fantasy Grounds. It was easy enough. We decided on using Touch AC for Energy AC and Temporary Hit Points for Stamina Points — suggestions we had seen during our aforementioned googling — and decided to manually handle anything that was not easily coded (like you would at a non virtual table top). One nice thing about Paizo PDFs is that the art is easily extracted for creating tokens and laying out battlemats. In the end, four PCs were jumped in a nightclub by a like number of Space Goblins just so we could see how various rules interacted and character abilities worked. It pretty much ran like a Pathfinder small scale skirmish, but with a focus on ranged weapons. Everyone took cover. We used the harrying and cover fire rules. In the end, not goblin junk lasers exploded (this made me sad) and the PCs triumphed. The extra protection provided by Stamina Points means it takes a lot to kill even a first level PC — which is not necessarily a bad thing, but may change the way you play both as a player and as a GM.

Starship Combat: Separate from the above character combat, a friend and I ran through a starship encounter between an Eoxian Blackwind Sepulchre (a medium transport) and a trio of Veskarium BMC Mauler fighters. While the math provided for creating starship encounters said this was a balanced encounter based on tier, it was decidedly not. The nuke-wielding Vesk fighters made glowing shards and gas out of the Sepulchre in 4 rounds. The Eoxian ship was just too slow to get away and lacked any weapons with the same punch as the Maulers. That said, it was still fun. It is a relatively light tactical game. It has facing and maneuvers and is broken down into phases — very much its own thing rather than man-to-man combat rules translated to ship scale. It feels a little shallow so you probably would not want to make it a major focus of a Starfinder campaign, but it seems like it should provide a nice change of pace now and again. Not every adventure should probably include a space battle but maybe half should. In feel, the battles definitely evoke The Expanse (both book and television show). There are fast moving torpedoes and point defense weapons and flip-and-burn maneuvers. This is not a criticism: there are much worse things to emulate. We did not test the capital ships but my guess is they will feel more like Star Trekian lumbering naval fleet actions.

Next week we start our Starfinder campaign in earnest. This will be my test bed in preparation for running 6 ongoing session of Starfinder at Carnage in November. If you plan on going to Carnage this year, look for “The Dropship Murphies” in the event catalog.

 

Don’t forget: while I love me some science fantasy gaming I also do some science fantasy writing. My novel Elger and the Moon is available on Kindle Unlimited and for purchase in both Kindle and dead tree formats.

Starfinder Has Launched

Although August 17th is still a week away — that’s the official street date — Paizo, Inc’s science fantasy role-playing game Starfinder has been finding its way into customers hands already. Some who pre-ordered the core book have received it and some folks (like myself) have gotten their download links for the PDF copies as subscribers. The big drop is not until GenCon, of course, but it is nice to get to see it early — and get ready to run some impromptu games at GenCon if I can find an empty table and some interested parties. Given how quickly the official Starfinder events sold out, I don’t imagine it will be too difficult.

 

I don’t really do reviews, and even if I did I have not had enough time to really digest the book or play the game so a review would not be appropriate at this point anyway. That said, I thought I would give my thoughts on Starfinder. If it helps someone on the fence decide one way or another, or makes someone still waiting for their copy to turn green with envy, I’ll call it a win.

 

Note that these thoughts are coming pretty much at random and are still in the initial I-have-been-waiting-for-this-game-for-a-year-Oh-My-God-it’s-here! phase. Take them for what they are: initial impressions of a long anticipated game. Detached and objective ruminations, these are not. With that preamble out of the way…

First and foremost, the art in this book is just gorgeous. Paizo has not put up an official art gallery for the game yet but some of the game’s excellent art can be seen in various block posts.

The whole core book is full of great images like that one. I would be hard pressed not to shell out a sizable wad of cash for a Starfinder art book right now. I imagine the wealth of wonderful sci-fi/fa art from the game is just going to continue to grow.

As far as the core system for Starfinder is concerned, it is very close to the same as Pathfinder, which itself was a revised and expanded iteration of Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5. I have not played Pathfinder in a few years (essentially since D&D 5th Edition was released — the last time I was at GenCon!) but from what I understand some of the new rules in Starfinder come from a book of options called Pathfinder Unchained — which is analogous to D&D’s Unearthed Arcana variant rules collection. I can see how people that do not care for Pathfinder’s relatively heavy rules set will be turned off by Starfinder, and how some Pathfinder purists will be bothered by some of the changes in Starfinder. Those that will have it worst I think are those Pathfinder fans who jumping feet first into Starfinder. They are likely to run into a lot of small rules changes for actions, feats, abilities and spells with the same or similar names as those in Pathfinder. I expect a lot of accidental legacy rules calls in the near future.

Starfinder is chock full of great new ideas, from the races and classes to the mix of magic and technology to the starship combat system in which every character has a role to play as something like the “bridge crew”. Like Pathfinder, Starfinder relies on well worn but successful tropes. Among the races there are recently freed hive mind insectoids, biomechanical androids that made it through their own singularity, and warlike lizard-folk Gorn-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off called Vesk. Among the classes and archetypes are scoundrels with hearts of gold, space marines with really big guns and power armor, and no-we-totally-aren’t-Jedi called Solarians. This isn’t to bag on the game for its choices. Pathfinder is based on D&D and D&D is a game of tropes and stereotypes that excels when both companies and individual campaigns find a way to use those tropes in unique ways and surpass them. That there are small ratlike people that are good at stealing things in Starfinder is not a bug, but a feature. Especially when the ability of said race to hide objects in their furry little cheeks is detailed.

 

One idea that is less of a trope is the marriage of magic and machine in the game. Often times in games or fiction where both magic and technology are present they are at odds. Not so in Starfinder. The world of Starfinder was a D&D inspired fantasy world that developed naturally to its high tech future (exactly when and how is an open question built into the setting, but that’s neither here nor there). Thus, character options like the technomancer appear: a wizard whose magic is as much about manipulating technology as it is about summoning monstrosities from the outer planes or casting charm person. High tech weapons can be engraved with magical runes to better fight undead cyborgs and dragon space pirates. Starfinder is not just space opera a la Dune or Star Wars — it is true space fantasy. It is to space opera what Shadowrun was to cyberpunk.

If there is a fault in Starfinder it is that — like Pathfinder and D&D both — it is not complete even in its 500-odd page core rule book. There are no monsters in the core rulebook (aside from space goblins, as an example of how  statblock is read) nor any adventures. The latter are coming in October’s Alien Archive, and the latter can be found at launch with the first installment of the Dead Suns Adventure Path (which incidentally includes some monsters as well). It is nice that conversion rules are given for Pathfinder monsters and characters so GMs not content to or interested in using a pre-packaged adventure have options. There is also the Free RPG Day booklet First Contact which serves as a sort of Alien Archive primer, though not all the creatures in it will be appropriate for beginning adventures in the Starfinder universe. Enterprising Starfinder GMs should have no trouble cobbling something together, but it would have been nice for a simultaneous release of the Alien Archive rather than, say, cardboard standee pawns or shiny flip mats.

Now that I have it in my hands — at least in digital form — I am still All In for Starfinder. I am going to run it as often as I can in the near future — I will cut my teeth at GenCon as mentioned above; stay tuned here for news on that front! — and am committed to running a rollicking Starfinder mercenary open world game at Carnage called “Dropship Murphies.” If you are in Vermont in November, come see us and drop in at my table!

All In For Starfinder

Last year, Paizo, Inc. — makers of the Pathfinder role-playing game — announced they were making a science fantasy RPG called Starfinder. Not only was it to be based on the Pathfinder rules, but  it would be set in the far future of their Golarion campaign setting. To say I was intrigued is an understatement. Science Fantasy is one of my favorite genre mashups, especially when their are spaceships and chainswords and Artificial-Intelligences-So-Vast-They-Become-Literal-Gods involved. Pathfinder itself is a game that I played and ran a lot of in the Dark Tim between 3rd and 5th Edition of D&D, and while I was happy to leave its intricate and crunch heavy rules behind when 5E came out, I still appreciate Paizo’s production quality and talented writers.

I was a little worried at first. The art previews seemed to be heavy on the science and light on the fantasy. Note that I think a sci-fi Pathfinder game would be bad — but the prospect of true Science Fantasy with a D&D base flavor was very exciting to me. The last time we saw it was during the third party glut of the early 2000s with DragonStar — a noble effort, to be sure, but long unsupported and built on the rickety foundation of the 3.0 D&D rules. Luckily, it did not take long for the game previews on the Paizo Blog to assuage me of my concerns. The art preview for the Game Master’s screen killed those concerns dead.

That there is some Science Fantasy Heaven.

Why am I so excited for Starfinder? First of all, I am looking forward to see what Paizo can do with their Pathfinder game system — itself a rebalancing and expansion of the D&D “3.5” rules. It is pretty commonly accepted that Pathfinder sometimes suffers due to its requisite adherence to some now decade old design choiced from 3.5. The talented folks at Paizo surely have some fixes in mind they can’t really implement in Pathfinder without disturbing its stated goal of compatibility with D&D 3.5. Beyond that, the notion of “D&D In SPACE!!!” just tickles me. It takes all the joy and weirdness of Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and Warhammer 40K and mashes them together with a heaping helping of Tolkien and Howard and Lieber. What’s not to like?

Plus, you know, laser guns.

Starfinder debuts at GenCon 50 this year. I have already gone all in on the purchases — I am subscribed to everything except the map subscription and may add that anyway — and I have already committed to running Starfinder at this November’s Carnage Con in Killington, VT. Here’s the con book blurb, in fact:

“The Dropship Murphies”

It is a big galaxy out there, full of weird science, alien magic, ancient ruins and very hungry native life forms. Despite all that, people from the Pact Worlds push out into the Vast, colonizing and capitalizing. Sometimes, they get in deep trouble. That’s where you come in: the Dropship Murphies are the toughest, hardest bunch of mercenaries in the Vast, specializing in pulling naive pilgrims, greedy suits and lost explorers out of the fire — for a price.

“Dropship Murphies” is an ongoing adventure for the Starfinder space fantasy role-playing game by Paizo, Inc. Sessions are connected but episodic, so players are free to join for as many or few as they want. Accept a client, plan the drop and then try and keep Muphy’s Law at bay long enough to get paid. Pre-generated characters will be provided. Keep an eye on www.ianeller.com for previews and other updates.

Even more than that, I plan on running Starfinder at GenCon this year — not in any official capacity, mind you. All the Starfinder events were sold out within the first few hours of registration opening. I was disappointed for about a minute and a half before I realized I would be picking up my Starfinder rulebook at GenCon, so I might as well find a prominent place in Open Gaming and run it for anyone else like me who failed to get in an official game. We’ll navigate the rules together and much fun will be had, I am sure.

So expect a bunch of Starfinder related posts in the coming weeks and months. On the upside, it means fewer posts about writers block, the pains of self promotion, and/or other writerly whining and ranting.

Speaking of, if you like Science Fantasy as much as I do, there’s a little novel by yours truly you might want to check out. Just saying.