Friday, August 31, 2012

Voluptuaries of the Hollow Moon

The ancients called them Succubi, Incubi, Sirens, and Heterae. These are all value-laden terms. The taxa used by the mechanistic materialists of the RUR Workers-State classify the Voluptuaries more neutrally as Lust-Capacitors. The philosophical idealists of Nacal take a similar tack, calling them Cathexians. Throughout the Empire, however, they are best known as the Voluptuaries of the Hollow Moon.

The Volupturaries originated on the world of Lupercalia. That world, buried deep within the Imperial Preserves Megacluster, was destroyed centuries ago, as the expansion of  that genetic singularity known as the Mother Mass tore the planet apart from within. The Mother Mass then scattershifted to the core of Lupercalia's singleton satellite, Trusca, and perhaps a dozen other worlds beyond the Megacluster.

There, it set about a new and different expansion cycle. A cursory examination of Trusca reveals the huge internal stresses that moon now endures. These pressures have distorted the shape of Trusca to the point where this eggshell moon looks like it's about to tear itself apart just as Lupercalia did. The fabric of spacetime itself cavorts around Trusca to the point that only a Paradox-class Imperial Gateship can reach this world safely.

Shuttles from Paradox-class ships sometimes land on this world and take on passengers of many different forms. These are the Voluptuaries of the Hollow Moon, the children of the Mother Mass. By treaty - and there is a Psychic Recording* of this agreement in the Imperial Archives on Amarna - the Voluptuaries are granted safe passage on all Imperial ships. There is even a Voluptuary in the Imperial Palace on Amarna, for by treaty the Imperial Sovereign always has one Imperial Consort from Trusca.

*Reviewing this Psychic Recording may permanently disturb one's Composure.

There will be a follow-up post with additional information on the human-scale life forms known as the Voluptuaries of the Hollow Moon. This is a name that has been rattling around in my head for a while... I just wanted to get it OUT of there.


The Mother Mass

Scale 8 (Planetary)
Physical Stress: 5
Composure Stress: 5

  • 1 Fantastic (+6): Empathic Talent
  • 2 Superb (+5): Energy Shield, Unusual Super Weapon
  • 3 Great (+4): FTL Inhibitor, Telepathy, Telekinesis
  • 4 Good (+3): Scattershift (i.e., Stardrive), Absorb Energy, Endurance, Resolve
  • 5 Fair (+2): Exude Energy, Mimic, Ooze, Alertness, Survival
  • 6 Average (+1): Mental Control, Mental Bolt, Postcognition, Intimidation, Science, Rapport
Aspects: A total of 8 are allowed.
  • Destroy from within
  • My children are multitude
  • You will love my children
  • Protected by treaty
  • Spacetime bends before me
  • I am the Mother of All
Monstrous Special Abilities: 3
  • Planet Buster (Unusual Super Weapon skill)
  • Move Self (Telekinesis skill; roll using Scattershift skill)
  • Regeneration (Endurance skill)
  • Sunlight (Major Weakness) - Takes an immediate Consequence from a successful hit or exposure
  • Gravity (Major Weakness) - Takes an immediate Consequence from a successful hit by a gravity-based weapon
  • Projectile Weapons (Minor Weakness) - Takes double the stress inflicted from a successful hit

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SF Events At Con Of The North 2013

If you go to The Everwayan blog, you can see the Tekumel RPG event that I have submitted to run at Con of the North 2013 on Sunday, February 17, 2-6 PM!

There are two other SF events that I have submitted as a two-part marathon session on Friday, February 15, 12 Noon-6 PM. They are steampunk Victorian games using Leagues of Adventure, the newest Ubiquity system game from Triple Ace Games.

Ubiquity is a bit more traditional than FATE, but has many manageable narrativist tools. I like it because it is very clean, simple, and fun to run at cons. It's a great gateway to systems like FATE.

Players can register and play in either Part One, Part Two or both!

Here are the two descriptions:

“Leagues of Adventure Marathon I: From London to New York, or The STEAM and the PUNK”  TRACK: FRI 12-14 (12 noon-2 PM): A wealthy Southern gentleman crosses the Atlantic to recruit some of London’s greatest explorers for the adventure of a lifetime.  You just need to get your hands on an airship to seal the deal. That and evade Confederate and Union assassins and get the airship across the ocean to wartime New York City. No problem, right?  This is Part One of a two part game; play either or both parts!

“Leagues of Adventure Marathon II: Expedition to the Hollow Earth!”  FRI 14-18 (2 PM-6 PM): You are on the adventure of a lifetime: a journey to the Hollow Earth!  The rewards? Fame, fortune, and changing the history of science!  All that and discovering a lost world of monsters and ancient civilizations! But there’s challenges. Everything from air pirates to beastmen to prehistoric creatures – as well as AMERICANS. Can you rescue the neer-do-well survivors of the previous expedition?  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Awarding FATE Points: FATE Tutorials

Once again, we want to award some FATE points to people who are building the FATE SF community or doing cool things with SF gaming. This time, it is a +5 FP to Jeremy Kostiew, who has created a great series of FATE tutorials using Google+.

I will be adding the following as links to the FATE SF Links page on my blog. But here is the entire series for you today:

FATE 1: The Basics, But Mostly Dice

FATE 3.1: Aspects and FATE Points Part 1

FATE 3.2: Aspects and FATE Points Part 2


And a BIG shout out to Jeremy Whalen for helping me try out Google+ Hangouts a couple of nights ago. He also gets +1 FP for that and +1 FP for not putting an Aspect on me like "Man, you must be really old to not have tried Hangouts before." I can see the appeal of this for tabletop gaming!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Report From Xudriss II

I mentioned in Thursday's brief post that I had just demoed Hereticwerks' Rogue Space scenario, "Quick Score on Xudriss II" for Diaspora with my gaming group. We played at Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota.

Rogue Space is an exceptionally lean and cool classic SF RPG, and are looking forward to the second edition of the game with his wife's  it is very cool that certain mentats - like Jim and Jody Garrison of Hereticwerks (see their creation, the LITHUS sector) and Porky of Porky's Expanse are creating great new content for the game.

But my group likes FATE - and Diaspora - so we play that.

Some scenario SPOILERS follow.

"Quick Score on Xudriss II" is a very linear adventure. People have been recruited through a labor agent for a special off-world mission. Their employers on this mission are a mysterious group called the Consortium. They are dropped onto a rogue planet, are given the mission assignment, and have only an hour to reach the mission target - or their suits will kill them.

Given that we were playing a demo anyway, this sounded pretty straightforward and fun to run. I created a hex map, rather than a zone map, with a d6 randomizer around hex 03.07 to determine in which hex each PC lands at planetfall. The PCs came from orbit in landing cylinders rather like the eggs that Mobile Infantry use in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. (At least that was my take on the CraShell, the default insertion method.) The target was in hex 03.00.

Jagged lines are hills;
parallel lines are slopes.
Each hex on the map had one of three types of terrain: flat, slope, or hills. Slope and hills were quite dangerous, being filled with metal and obsidian shards, as well as being inundated with electrostatically clingy dust. I assigned a move value to each hex type (5 min for clear; 10 min for slope; 20 min for hills, 15 min for slope/hill mixed). I also gave slope and hill hexes damage skill levels (the latter are the numbers which appear on the individual hexes), as well as rating a couple of plain hexes (00.04, 06.05) with a damage rating for dangerous explosive outgassing. Basically, I rolled for these hexes when players traversed them. Players rolled their Athletics to resist injury from the metal and glass shards, which are ubiquitous in the slope and mountain hexes.

At the outset of the mission, one of the players made a comment about how if they made a mistake in plotting their movements, the GM would kill them. I gently replied: "No, the planet will kill you." This is a pretty unusual scenario for me to run, because I tend NOT to run railroads and I am pretty uninterested in death-traps. I did test the map in advance to make sure there were a couple ways to get to the target within 60 minutes.

One player chose to go off in another direction from the other two. He chose to move through treacherous hill and slope terrain and took enough damage to kill someone - except he was wearing a Hardflex skin suit, which reduces 6 shifts per attack. Lucky him! More than anything, I think this player wanted to test whether there were different directional solutions to getting to the target on time. In hex 05.00, he found a dead Achernarian, buried up to his/her/its space helmet in the gravel from a slope.

Curiously, the PCs did not use Aspects much (at all?) during the trek to the target, even though there were a few situations where it would have been very helpful. Not everyone can invoke under pressure Perhaps the timed and deadly nature of the exercise suppressed the use of Aspects? Something to ponder...

All three players made it to the mission target: an alien bioship. After they arrived, the PCs were able to download the remainder of their mission briefing. The Consortium had tasked them with collecting samples of the plant life forms on the bioship.
I deviated a bit from the script by making the ship have an echinodermiform design rather than the seed pod vibe as described in the original scenario. So call me a Stapledonian; I can take it! In flight, the five arms all tuck behind the center of the body. The end of each arm is a propulsion cone. I made other changes to the scenario as well. I placed another ship in hex 00.00, which placed it in close proximity to the echinodermiform ship. It was a classical UFO on stilts. This was an Achernarian ship. An Achernarian and two Shen mercenaries hired by the Achernarians had been captured during their incursion into the echinodermiform ship. They were being conveniently stored in one of the echinodermiform ship's food vacuoles.

Then the PCs went off script. Instead of focusing on the mission (collecting alien plant biosamples from the target bioship), they decided to try to communicate with it, first by radio, and then telepathically. It worked, and the ship communicated how it had crashlanded on the rogue planet (a Consortium ambush, anyone?). They learned that the bioship is in fact a bioark: it carries the life-archive of a dying world in which plants were the dominant intelligent species.

The PCs broke with the mission parameters to try and help the bioship get off planet. The curtains closed on the scenario at that point because the game store was closing.  With a Consortium extraction team on its way in to collect the PCs biosamples, they would have faced a tough fight to get the bioship and themselves safely off-planet!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Earther Stunt Package For Barsoom

The lower gravity of Mars enables Earthmen to commit astounding feats of dexterity, agility, and strength. The special abilities possessed by an Earthman when they are on Barsoom can be represented by a stunt package that is accessible to Earthers only during the time they are on the planet Mars.

Frank Frazetta


Jasoomian Leap - By spending a Fate point, an Earther can leap up to 5 zones away in a single move action. This allows an Earther to completely escape combat if they choose to do so. Alternatively, a Jasoomian may simply reposition him/herself 1-5 zones away from their previous position. If cover is available in the vicinity of their destination, the Earther may take advantage of that cover by making a successful Athletics roll for their landing.

Jasoomian Might - Earthers are capable of great feats of strength. Moving or lifting heavy objects requires 2 shifts less than it normally would. Also, by spending a Fate point, a Jasoomian may add +4 to any physical strike on a Barsoomian person or creature, or inanimate object.*

Weakness - Earthers lack the skill in telepathy that almost all Martians possess at a rudimentary or higher level. While Barsoomians can communicate with people nearby them by using telepathy, visitors from Jasoom will need to learn to speak Barsoomian languages.

*Jasoomian Might is similar to the combined Might Stunts of Herculean Strength and Piledriver (SBA p.175).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Diaspora Demo: Quick Score on Xudriss II

Dust Planet by ShireiVien
Tonight my gaming group ran a Diaspora demo at our FLGS, Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota.

I adapted a new one-shot scenario for the Rogue Space RPG, namely "Quick Score on Xudriss II" which is available for free on Jim and Jody Garrison's Hereticwerks blog. The scenario is set on a rogue planet located in the Panj system in Jim Garrison's beautiful Lithus Sector Map.

We had one new gamer stop by to observe a bit. He had heard on Metafilter that there was a local Diaspora group. It was nice meeting someone new who is interested in one of our favorite games!

On Monday, I'll post a bit about what I did with the scenario. It is designed for convention/demo play and is very linear; that worked surprisingly well at the table.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Green Martian In Diaspora

My title sounds like an academic text: "The Green Martian In Diaspora: Identity, Migration, and Contestation in the Dry Sea Beds of Barsoom". 


  • Super (+5): Close Combat (Upper Torso)
  • Great (+4): Close Combat (Lower Torso), Slug Throwers (Radium rifle)
  • Good (+3): Brawling, Survival (Martian Desert), Stamina
  • Decent (+2): Agility, Alertness,  Intimidation, Resolve 
  • Average (+1): Animal Handler (Thoat), Profession (Tracker), Repair, Stealth, Tactics

Stress Tracks: Health 5, Composure 5, Wealth 3

  • Multiple Attacks: Green Martians can make two attacks without penalty if they have space to stand upright. These could be two Close Combat attacks (each using a different torso section), or one Close Combat attack and one Slug Throwers (Radium rifle) attack.
  • Resilient: Take four Consequences rather than three.
  • Extra Stress Track:  One extra Stress box for Composure.

  • Honor bound to accept any mortal challenge
  • Generous to friends but ruthless to enemies
  • Hardy survivor of a dying world


**Intimidation is a total of +3 vs. Red Martians, Earthmen, and beings of similar size

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Diaspora Demo At The Source

Art by MANCHU 

This Thursday, April 23, I'll be doing a demo of Diaspora at Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota. 

If you are interested in the game, please feel free to stop by from 7-9 PM.

We'll make some room at the table for you!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Green Martians For Starblazer Adventures

We are pleased to present stats for the Green Martians in Starblazer Adventures. A couple of comments/cautionary notes are in order. The order of skills is pretty arbitrary, but it seemed important to place martial skills at the highest levels.

Individual Green Martians will vary. Fists might be the Apex skill of one Green Martian, and Intimidation the Apex skill of another. I chose to put melee weapons into the first two highest slots for skills, as well as Guns, since the Green Martians are experts with the radium rifles. Also, some Green Martians may have Athletics or Resolve as skills, rather than Intimidation or Alertness.

Also, since all Martians have a rudimentary level of telepathy used in routine communication, I am not including that skill in the stats for a Green Martian. Instead, the lack of telepathy will be added to the Earther "template" as a weakness. That template will be published on Friday.

Adam Moore


Green Martian (neutral)

Physical Stress: 7 (5 normal +1 from Endurance +1 from Stunt: Oversized)
Composure Stress: 5
Fate Points: 5
Consequences: Up to three consequences
  • Great (+4): Weapons (Upper Torso)*
  • Good (+3): Weapons (Lower Torso)*, Guns*
  • Fair (+2): Might, Survival (Martian Desert), Fists
  • Average (+1): Telepathy, Alertness,  Intimidation**, Endurance
  • Honor bound to accept any mortal challenge
  • Generous to friends but ruthless to enemies
  • Nearly immortal but destined to die in battle
  • Deadly enemy of the White Apes
  • Hardy survivor of a dying world
  • Anything Goes [Weapons] - SBA p.198
  • Enhanced Hearing [Alertness] - SBA p.255
  • Good Arm [Weapons] - SBA p.198
  • Long Shot [Guns] SBA - p.166
  • Oversized [Intimidation] - SBA p.258
  • Battle harness
  • Swords
  • Knives
  • Spear/lance
  • Radium rifle
  • Thoat (animal mount)

*Green Martians can make two attacks without penalty if they have space to stand upright. These could be two Weapons attacks (each using a different torso section), or one Weapons attack and one Guns attack.

*Intimidation is a total of +3 vs. Red Martians, Earthmen, and beings of similar size

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Green Martians

Green Martians live in the desert areas of Barsoom. They assemble in great tribes which John Carter refers to as hordes, evoking the Mongols of his home world. Prominent Green Martian tribes include the Tharks, Thurds, Torquas, and Worhoons. Green Martian hordes roam the dry sea beds of the Red Planet, raiding other tribes as well as Red Martian settlements and cities. They make their homes in the abandoned cities of long forgotten Red Martian kingdoms.

The Green Martians have a double torso, with a total of four arms and two legs. Their head is fearsome; with two large tusks that curve upwards from their lower jaws. They have two antenna-like ears near the top of their heads. Males are up to 15' tall, and females are usually in the 8-10' range.

Green Martians reproduce by laying eggs, which then incubate for up to five years. A tribe will destroy an enemy horde's eggs with great relish whenever their rivals' incubators are discovered. For this reason, hordes often sequester their eggs within incubators in disguised locations, and then move on, checking back periodically to ensure the safety of their clutch of future offspring. Hatchlings are distributed to females to care for according to their ability. In this practice, as in many others, the Green Martians practice a primitive form of communism. This is one of the many reasons that the Red Martians both fear and despise the Green Martians, viewing them as barbarians without the capacity for  individualism, art, culture, or industry.

But take a closer look and you will see a deeper truth. It is the Red Martians who produce nothing new.  To be sure, they are beautiful, civilized, sensuous, and decadent. For this reason, they share many attributes with H.G. Wells' beautiful, childlike Eloi*.

While it is true that the Red Martians maintain Mars' atmosphere factories, as well as the vast canals and agricultural systems required to maintain their cities, these systems are in reality the creations of very distant ancestors from long-gone civilizations. All of these ancient creations would be impossible for the Red Martian to build today. It is likely these systems will gradually decline, which will leave the Red Martians in a very ecologically precarious situation. This decline is worsened by the fact that, the primary preoccupation of the Red Martians is the endless pursuit of war against both their own kind and other races. (And we don't deny that this is a Green Martian proclivity as well!)

In contrast though, the Green Martians have some things in common with the Morlocks. While the Green Martians are not captains of industry, they have developed a much greater mastery of their environment than the Red Martians have. They have learned how to survive in Mars' harsh wilderness environments. They have learned how to "repurpose" the ancient abandoned cities for the Red Martians for their own culture and survival. They fashion weapons and have even mastered some quite sophisticated ones - the radium rifles. It would be interesting to know whether they made these or secured them from raids or trade. Above all, the Green Martians have learned how to make make Barsoom their own. Once the canal systems fail, the Green Martians will survive for much longer on Mars than the Red Race will.

*I am grateful to Eleanor Arnason for making the Eloi vs. Morlock comparison with the Red vs. Green Martians in our panel on Planetary Romances at Diversicon 20. She also posited that the Green Martians will survive longer on Mars, due to their mastery of the environment.

Green Martian stats for Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures follow in the next posts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Starblazer Adventures At Gaylaxicon 2012

Gaylaxicon 2012, the annual international convention for LGBTQ science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics fans, will be back in the Twin Cities, Minnesota this year. Gaylaxicon is happening the weekend of October 5-7. If anyone is planning to attend, please drop me a line!  I will be running a scenario for Starblazer Adventures there! 

Here is the event description: 

Title: "The Runaway Prince" 

The Story: A decadent galactic Empire and its rivals, the Comet Barbarians, are on the brink of war! A barbarian prince disappears just days before his wedding to a galactic princess! A party representing both sides must somehow work together, work quickly, and work quietly to find the barbarian prince, figure out what went wrong, and prevent an interstellar war!

4 hour event

Uses Starblazer Adventures (FATE) a fun, fast paced space opera rpg.

Rules will be taught!

Closer to the Con, once the schedule has been set, I will post the details on time and place. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sarah Newton Interview, Part II

Today, FATE SF is pleased to present the second half of our interview with SF novelist and RPG designer Sarah Newton. In the first half of the interview, Sarah and I talked about many things, including her early gaming experiences and the influence of Cordwainer Smith as an influence on the Mindjammer setting. We'll resume the interview by exploring other influences on Mindjammer, and then dig deeper into a few of Sarah's other projects, including "Chronicles of the Future Earth." 

This past week, I have also been enjoying the first installment of Sarah Newton's new WW II Call of Cthulhu  series of adventures called Achtung! Cthulhu. It is one of the first offerings in Chris Birch's (yes, that's Starblazer Adventures' own Chris Birch) Modiphius imprint for RPGs. More on Achtung! Cthulhu below!

FATE SF: Were there any other books, anime, or films that were particular influences on the Mindjammer RPG?

Olaf Stapledon
SARAH: Gosh... Where to start? I should definitely cite all the cool modern science-fiction writers of the early 21st century – I love the works of Iain Banks, Peter Hamilton, Dan Simmons, and many, many more. I’ve already mentioned Olaf Stapledon – his “Star Maker” is perhaps the most profoundly moving piece of science-fiction that I've ever read, and is so mind-blowingly transhuman...

Also, recent breakthroughs in physics – membrane theory, the intelligent universe theory, Kurzweil, the Singularity – all of these concepts are only just beginning to be expressed in roleplaying. I found myself a bit frustrated before writing Mindjammer that it was hard to find a science-fiction roleplaying game which wasn’t rooted very much in the popular scifi of the 70s and 80s. Science-fiction has changed massively in the aftermath of Blade Runner and cyberpunk, and in Mindjammer I wanted to write a roleplaying game setting where you could really riff off modern science-fiction’s truly awesome concepts.

FATE SF: I also have your Basic Role Playing “Chronicles of the Future Earth: Science-Fantasy Roleplaying in Earth’s Far Future.”  Can you talk a little about the setting – your goals with it and your inspirations? It has a very Gene Wolfe feel to me. Were there other influences that were important to you?

SARAH: As a kid I grew up with the artwork of Bruce Pennington. He did the wonderful, almost spooky covers for the John Carter novels in the 70s, the Dune books, and many more. I got a New English Library copy of M. John Harrison’s “The Pastel City” in my early teens – actually I found it in a crate of my dad’s books in the attic – and Pennington’s cover absolutely enchanted me. Again the sense of strangeness, of impossibly far future civilizations where everything is different, where technology is almost magical, where everywhere you look there is a ruin or forgotten relic of the past... For years I tried to pin down the world which Pennington’s covers seemed to be suggesting in my mind – and then, in the late nineties, I started to write it down.

Cover by Bruce Pennington
Cover by Bruce Pennington

I started with this concept: “the Post-Historical Age”. In other words, in all the ages of our planet, that a time would come when so much had happened, when so much history had passed, that the vast bulk of it had been lost, forgotten, and was impossible for any single human to grasp. And that people would think: there’s nothing new in the world, everything has been done, already thought of, already invented, all the questions have been answered. That was the world which Pennington’s paintings suggested to me; a mysterious world, so old it had forgotten how it had come into existence, drifting along in a strange, dreamlike future, surrounded by ruins.

I wrote the Chronicles of Future Earth setting first for 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, and played it for about a year; then, I began to realize that I needed something more flexible, as the technological side of the setting demanded more. I rewrote the setting for Basic Roleplaying, which was a perfect fit, and contacted Chaosium to see if they would be interested in publishing it. To my delight, they said yes!

A lot of people have called The Chronicles of Future Earth a “Dying Earth” setting. Of course it has many resonances with works by writers like Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Clarke Ashton Smith, and so on, but to be honest its more of a “Dying Humanity” setting – the Earth itself is still fine, but it’s humankind itself which is dying and decaying. And that’s the crux of the setting: something wonderful and terrible is about to happen in the Springtide Civilizations of Future Earth, and the Chronicles themselves are the story of whether or not humankind can rise to the challenge and revitalize itself once more, or whether it will succumb and drift into oblivion. I’m hoping we can all answer that question by playing the setting!

FATE SF: Is there more to come for this setting?

SARAH: Definitely! Right now I’m writing the first novel in the Chronicles of Future Earth setting, called “The Worm Within” – it deals with the events following the mini-campaign in the Chronicles RPG core book. That’s due for publication by Chaosium in 2013. At the same time, I’m working on the Chronicles of Future Earth Player’s Guide. This one is a pleasure to write. When I first wrote the manuscript for the first Chronicles supplement, I wrote over 200,000 words; the final manuscript published was about 36,000. That’s a huge reduction, and people have commented that it felt it should be much bigger. At the time Chaosium didn't know if there was an appetite for more Chronicles material – happily it seems there is, and I’m delighted to be working on a full-blown player’s guide. This one will be about twice as long as the current core book, and will be focused on everything you need as a Chronicles player – details of all the major cultures of the Venerable Autocracy, the major friendly jeniri and esteri races, the temples of the Gods of the Great Compact, and heaps of maps, histories, and background material. I’m hoping that will see the light of day during 2013. And, after that... well, after those first 200,000 words, I've been writing lots more...

FATE SF: Perhaps I am hallucinating this, but is there a connection between the two settings? I couldn’t find the reference tonight, but I could swear I read somewhere in “Chronicles” that the Urth of the setting was once part of a Commonality of worlds, a term that is also used in Mindjammer. Is Chronicles set far after the collapse of a transhumanist interstellar civilization?

SARAH: Ahhh... Wonderfully well-spotted! Let’s put it this way: when I wrote the huge backstory to the Chronicles of Future Earth setting, I got to wondering what that Commonality of Worlds must have looked like – that exceptional, almost utopian far-future civilization which fell, or destroyed itself, in a battle for the future of humankind which gave birth, over tens of millennia, to the Springtide Civilizations. And out of that wondering came Mindjammer.

So, are the Chronicles the far future of Mindjammer? To tell the truth, I don’t really know. It kind of depends on whether the “many worlds” theory is true or not. I would say the Chronicles are perhaps the possible future of Mindjammer – but so much still remains up for grabs. If we don’t play the Mindjammer setting right, then maybe it does end up in the Venerable Autocracy.

Incidentally, there is a third setting. It sits between the two, during what the Chronicles call the “Great Cataclysm”, or the “Armageddon of the Gods”. It’s an insane, apocalyptic, techno-fantastic setting where science-fiction and fantasy meet head-on. The holy book of the Chronicles setting which tells the tales of this mythical period gives the setting its name – “The Helemoriad”. One day I’ll find the ruleset for writing that...

And don’t get me started on the Third Age of Space – what happens after the Chronicles setting. I’ve only glimpsed that a few times in some seriously weird dreams... J

FATE SF: So what new projects are you working on now? I believe I saw on your blog that you are working on supplements for Leagues of Adventure, the newest Ubiquity system RPG from Triple Ace Games. I thought their first Ubiquity game, All for One: Regime Diabolique was a fantastic Three Musketeers RPG. I have run this a number of times at cons, and the players had a blast every time! Have you had much opportunity to run Leagues yet?

Art by Dim Martin
SARAH: I love to keep busy – and I certainly am at the moment! In addition to working on Mindjammer and Chronicles, I’m also writing a series of World War Two Call of Cthulhu adventures forming a campaign called “Zero Point”, for the “Achtung! Cthulhu” setting published by Chris Birch’s new imprint Modiphius.

That’s a truly awesome opportunity – I started writing fiction in a Cthulhoid World War Two a couple of years ago, and Chris and I dreamed up the setting in one of the madly creative Skype sessions we do on occasion. Chris wanted to write a FATE-based World War Two setting; I wanted to write something inspired by the so-called “Legend” of Nazi occult science which led to the Roswell story.

Out of that collision came Achtung! Cthulhu and the Zero Point campaign. The first adventure, “Three Kings”, came out in May, and I’ve just finished up the second adventure “Heroes of the Sea”, this last week, which should be out in a month or two. It’s awesome fun to write.

And then – yes, Leagues of Adventure. I’ve worked with Wiggy from Triple Ace before – I developed and edited his Avalon Somerset sourcebook for Cthulhu Britannica – and together with Rob Elliot of Triple Ace we’re regular compatriots at conventions, GenCon, etc. I love their products – Hellfrost is an awesome setting, Wonderland No More, Sundered Skies, All For One, beautifully produced and just wonderful games. So, when I heard they were working on a Victorian era RPG I was very excited – I’m a huge fan of 19th century literature and science-fiction, but had never found a Victorian era RPG which “clicked” with me – something with that rich real world historical background, but loosened up to let the extravagances of Jules Verne, HG Wells, etc, be real. Leagues of Adventure does that perfectly, so when the opportunity to write for it came up I jumped at the chance!

So I’ve been playing a lot of Leagues of Adventure lately! It’s a lovely game – the Ubiquity rules are a perfect fit, neither too heavy nor too light, with just enough crunch to keep the steampunk-ish technology anchored, and just enough narrative flair to let you really ham it up with your best Victorian accents! I’m writing a series of four adventures forming a campaign called “The Great Game”, which I’ll say no more about at the moment except to say that they’re rip-roaring adventure in true Vernian and Wellsian fashion – and they have a transhuman element, too. But that’s just me. J

FATE SF: My next to last question comes from a friend who is involved with the old School Renaissance and wants to get his toes wet with new games published in the last 20 years. What kinds of RPGs do you think would give a good introduction to the range of mechanics, settings, and play styles available to gamers today?

SARAH: Good question! And a tough one! I’m going to be pretty brutal, and recommend just four systems – there are so many cool games out there, it’s impossible to list them all, but these four encapsulate some of the coolest developments in RPGs of the past ten years or so, in my opinion. So, first I’d definitely look at FATE – any incarnation, Legends of Anglerre for fantasy, Mindjammer for science-fiction, Spirit of the Century or Kerberos Club for Victorian, Dresden Files for modern urban fantasy.

FATE would be my first recommendation – it’s all that’s good and great in RPG development in the new millennium. Then I’d recommend HeroQuest 2 – perhaps the epitome of storytelling games, it’s very different in philosophy from most RPGs, and totally worth getting your head round. I love the way the players play against the story rather than against non-player characters, and the narrative to-and-fro that entails. Definitely one to look at. Third I’d look at the new RuneQuest – and this because it’s the latest incarnation of the D100 system, and from what I’m seeing is an organic yet very inspired evolution of a system that’s been around for thirty years. It takes a tried and tested system, and infuses it with the modern RPG ethos.

And, lastly, I’d recommend the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game; this is actually a game I haven’t played yet, and only have in PDF, but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve read. It’s a very crunchy system, but stands somewhere on the FATE spectrum in its gaming philosophy, and is an exceptional system for showing just how sophisticated dice rolling mechanics have become. As soon as I can get a hard copy here in France I’m running it!

FATE SF: Finally, I wonder if you would be willing to comment on the following question: do you believe people who write games have a responsibility to be socially engaged?  I am thinking of recent controversies – particularly in Old School Renaissance gaming circles – about subjects like the supposed “neutrality” of depicting sexual assault in RPGs. I’m not going to ask you to weigh in on that debate specifically, although you are certainly welcome to do so here if you like. But I AM interested in questions like this: in a world where we are seeing a huge polarization in wealth, and where the environment is undergoing rapid and potentially irreversible changes , do SF game designers have a responsibility to engage with these issues? And if so, how?

SARAH: I have two answers to that question. First, no, I don’t believe game designers must engage with issues of this nature. After all, people play games for enjoyment, for socializing, to escape into a simpler cosmos where the great questions of the world are often black and white and can be readily resolved. In that respect, that kind of gaming isn’t the place for dealing with thorny moral issues – it’s about fun and relaxation.

My second answer is: as a writer, personally, I find it impossible not to let my world view infuse my writing. I’m a political animal, I love technology, conspiracy theories, and reading and thinking things which blow my mind, and I love to write about that stuff. So, I don’t feel a responsibility to write about the issues which I’m passionate about – but I’d find it hard not to! Without wanting to get heavily philosophical, I think roleplaying games are perhaps the greatest forum for collective creativity I’ve ever come across, and have molded my life and continue to shape my thoughts today – so I’m always keen to bring issues and ideas which are occupying my mind to the table and see how we all wring them out in play. I think that’s an immensely enriching experience – and awesome fun at the same time!

And, lastly, in relation to that, I think it’s also clear that the ideas we hammer out and the stories we create at the gaming table do make their way into the social “collective consciousness”. There are more gamers than ever these days – not just tabletop, but online, MMORG, console RPG, what have you. And gamers are cropping up everywhere – writing fiction, making movies, even cropping up in politics and business. We’re a legion of dice-rolling starry-eyed wonderers, and in that respect the stories we tell one another are awesome forums for roleplaying huge issues to their resolutions. I remember the 80s movie “Wargames” said “the only way to win is not to play”; well, I think we’ve disproved that one – maybe the only way to resolve the really knotty questions of life is to play.

Happy gaming – and thanks very much for letting me appear on FATE SF! J


FATE SF: Thank you, Sarah!

Here is contact information for Sarah Newton, as well as links for Mindjammer the RPG and the novel!

Sarah Newton (website:
Facebook: / Twitter: @SarahJNewton

Find out more about Mindjammer at

You can buy the Mindjammer novel in Kindle and trade paperback format at Amazon:


CreateSpace (

Friday, August 10, 2012

Interview With Sarah Newton, Part I

Today we begin something very special for readers of FATE SF: the first part of our feature interview with SF author and RPG designer Sarah Newton, the creator of the FATE-based RPG setting and novel Mindjammer! 

This has been a big, big week for Sarah, with the launch of the Mindjammer Press and the re-launch of her transhuman SF novel Mindjammer in both print and electronic formats!

At the end of Part I of this interview, you'll discover all the details on how to contact Sarah, learn more about the Mindjammer universe, order the Mindjammer novel - and more!

Sarah Newton

Sarah is a writer of science-fiction and fantasy roleplaying games and fiction, including the transhuman space opera novel "Mindjammer", and the ENnie Award-winning RPG setting of the same name; the techno-fantasy RPG setting “The Chronicles of Future Earth”; and the “Legends of Anglerre” roleplaying game. She’s currently writing “Zero Point”, a series of globe-spanning World War 2 adventures for the “Achtung! Cthulhu” RPG setting, published by Modiphius; the “Great Game” campaign for the Steampunk “Leagues of Adventure” RPG from Triple Ace Games; and  “The Worm Within”, the first “Chronicles of Future Earth” novel, to be published by Chaosium, Inc, in 2013. She lives in a field in rural France, surrounded by numerous farmyard animals.

FATE SF:  Welcome to FATE SF, Sarah!  So, to get us started, what was your first gaming experience? What did you experience first as a player? What did you run as a GM? 

SARAH: Thanks very much for having me, John! And thanks too for maintaining FATE SF – this is a great site!

Art by Liz Danforth
My first gaming experience was way back in 1980, on the very last day of my first year at high school. I guess I was about 11, maybe just turned 12. It was “games day” – you got to take your toys and games to school for the last day of the year – and one kid had a copy of the brand new Advanced D&D Players Handbook – the softback edition. I remember seeing the dungeon map on the back page and being absolutely mesmerized – I was already a fan of Tolkien, John Carter, Earthsea, and so on, and the idea that you could actually play a game set in those worlds just blew me away.

I went straight home that day with a catalogue the kid gave me for “Games of Liverpool” and ordered “Buffalo Castle”, the solitaire dungeon for Tunnels and Trolls. I had no idea you needed a separate rulesbook to play it, so when it came I just kinda made up my own rules. I played the heck out of that little pink booklet! Then I went on to try writing a couple of my own, using my dad’s “Brother” typewriter. It was only when I went back to school in the fall I realized you could also play RPGs with other people! I picked up Metamorphosis Alpha, Traveller, and eventually white box D&D. By then I guess I was already a dyed-in-the-wool GM, and ran tons of sessions.

My first experience of playing RPGs was with AD&D – I had two characters, Meriosan the Giant Slayer, a paladin, and Oliosar the Thief. An unlikely combo! We played the whole of the G-D-Q series, over the course of maybe three months, including a snowbound Christmas. I had a blast – and boy did we ever kill that Lolth!

FATE SF: What kinds of RPGs do you enjoy the most? Are there particular systems that you think play to your own tastes and interests as a player and GM? Which ones?

SARAH: I like all kinds of stuff. For many years I GMed RuneQuest almost exclusively—the Chaosium version, second and third edition—and I still have a soft spot for Glorantha as a setting and the D100 system. About 10, 15 years ago, though, I found myself getting into a bit of a rut with my GMing – I was overscripting scenarios, and getting frustrated when players went “off story”. I didn’t realize myself what the problem was, until I discovered the “new generation” of narrative RPGs, and HeroQuest (then Hero Wars) and FATE games like Spirit of the Century and Starblazer Adventures some years after. Their less rigid approach to plotting, their emphasis on saying “yes” to player narration, and their use of really cool mechanics to cater for story-based events, all absolutely revolutionized how I viewed RPGs.

These days, I love sitting down to a table and having no idea how the session is going to play out. I enjoy prepping games, but these days I take huge care to make sure the players don’t feel constrained by a fixed plot, and that I have plenty of support for winging it and coming up with events on the fly. I find that very liberating, and I’m always open to new RPG mechanics these days, looking out for the next revolutionary breakthrough. Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that roleplaying is a relatively new hobby, and we’re just emerging from the Model-T Ford, “you can have any color you like as long as it’s black”, stage of our hobby. Huge amounts of cool stuff await!

So, these days I still play D100 – Call of Cthulhu, the new RuneQuest 6, and Chaosium’s BRP with my “Chronicles of Future Earth” setting.

But I also play a heckuva lot of FATE – I’d say that’s my go-to system these days – and a very respectable amount of HeroQuest 2nd edition.

Recently I've also discovered Leagues of Adventure by Triple Ace Games, which is the first Victorian era RPG I’ve really warmed to. It’s very Wells-ian, and uses the Ubiquity system, which I’m finding very light, refreshing, and with some very cool quirks and side effects.

FATE SF: I noticed on your Meme Machine blog that you recently received a copy of RuneQuest 6. Now that you’ve had it for a few weeks, what do you think of it?

SARAH: It’s awesome, it really is. I haven’t received my hard copy yet, so I’m still reading the PDF and haven’t played it, but I love what I’m seeing.

When RuneQuest was “reborn” a few years back under its Mongoose incarnation, I was a bit disappointed to see that the rules system hadn’t had the radical overhaul it really needed to incorporate all the cool developments of the past ten years and the revolutionary breakthroughs which the HeroQuest system had brought to Glorantha. Lawrence Whitaker, Pete Nash, and friends have done a splendid job of bringing the rules into the 21st century—there are all kinds of neat modern mechanics, providing for cool tactical play as well as narrative features. I’m really looking forwards to playing it.

FATE SF: How did you first get involved in playing and writing for FATE?

SARAH: That’s all down to Mindjammer, my far future transhuman space opera setting. I’d been thinking about the setting for a couple of years, and had already put down some ideas for an RPG book. First I’d been trying to use an updated version of FGU’s Space Opera rules, which I still love; then I’d been trying to fit it to BRP, which would obviously make a really cool science-fiction ruleset (I’m still a proud owner of the Ringworld RPG, a thing of beauty!).

But neither ruleset really did what I wanted – I was looking for something which could model the massive cultural conflicts of the Mindjammer setting in a cool and action-packed way. I wanted players to be able to play out the large scale conflicts between cultures, but also to play individual characters – culture agents, if you will – performing missions which would themselves affect, modify, and “attack” those big cultures. In other words, a small scale (character) affecting a large scale (culture). Psy-ops, that kind of thing.

Then, one day in late 2008, I stumbled upon Spirit of the Century on DriveThru. Holy cow, I thought – this is an amazing system! If only there was a scifi version!

And there it was – only in PDF at the time, but StarblazerAdventures, written by Chris Birch and published by Cubicle 7, contained absolutely everything I needed. Not only a really inspiring piece of narrative rules in the FATE system, but also a great extrapolation of the “FATE fractal” into the scifi space, with characters, planets, starships, and organizations—I had the solution to my “cultural conflict” question right there.

I contacted Chris and Angus at Cubicle 7 within a week of grabbing Starblazer, and they were very interested in publishing Mindjammer as a setting. Still the most amazing piece of synchronicity and serendipity, and it still fills me with glee.

FATE SF: So let’s talk about Mindjammer. It is one of the very few transhuman SF RPGs out there. How do you define transhumanism?

SARAH: I’m with Nietzsche on this one: “humankind is something which must be overcome”. We’re a bunch of mad monkeys walking on the moon, inventing virtual realities, fiddling with our genes, and generally doing all kinds of incredible stuff in spite of our violent animal natures. We have one hand with its knuckles dragging on the floor, red with blood, and another reaching for the stars. It’s amazing we’ve got this far – and inspiring that we continue to succeed. But it’s obvious that as a species we’re transitional – already we’re starting to modify ourselves to be more fit for purpose. We need better brains, better bodies, longer lives, if we’re really going to fulfill the potential of the minds which evolution has seen fit to gift us with. And I think it’s so cool to be actually aware of that process.

So, transhumanism for me is a gift: it’s a mind-set which allows us to responsibly and sensibly try to decide what kind of species we want to become in the future, and then try and map out a path to get there. I can’t think of a project facing humankind that’s more exciting – and it’s an awesomely fruitful concept for roleplaying!

FATE SF: I have the first edition of Mindjammer, and I have been looking forward to the second edition of the game. The cover art is quite astounding. Is the second edition still coming out? What are your plans for it?

SARAH: Mindjammer second edition is definitely coming out – I’m writing it as we speak! After Mindjammer first edition won the ENnie back in 2010, Cubicle 7 wanted to release all the new supplements with new and original artwork. This was a wonderful opportunity, but unfortunately it set back the production schedule hugely, which was frustrating – and I’d like to apologize to all the fans out there for the delays. In the meantime I was able to release the Mindjammer novel, and also to playtest the adventures from the Mindjammer Adventures supplement at GenCon last year, but as the delays mounted I decided finally to take the setting “in-house”, so to speak.

So, this summer I’m shortly going to be announcing the formation of “Mindjammer Press”, a new imprint specifically dedicated to producing and publishing material, both RPG and fiction, for the Mindjammer setting. It’s a very exciting venture—the first publication is going to be a relaunch of the Mindjammer novel over the summer, followed by Mindjammer second edition early in 2013, and then a steady release of four supplements a year thereafter.

The new edition is going to be completely compatible with the new FATE 3 Core, published by Evil Hat – that’s one of the reasons for the timing right now, as the FATE Core is due for release very shortly. We’re in talks with Evil Hat at the moment about whether to release Mindjammer 2nd edition as a standalone game, or as a supplement to the FATE Core book, but whichever we choose, the game itself will contain oodles of new material, including new rules for starships, planets, cultures, organizations, and of course the Mindscape. It will also contain loads of new setting material, maps, technology, and more. 2013 looks to be a great year for Mindjammer!

FATE SF: While we’re at it, do you have a sense of what is going on with Starblazer Adventures’ second edition, and supplements such as The Planet Killers?

SARAH: Unfortunately not – my last contract with Cubicle 7 finished just after Christmas 2011, so I’m afraid I can’t shed any light on their production schedules at the moment. I wrote the Starblazer 2nd edition player’s guide a couple of years ago, and I believe it’s still in the queue, but beyond that I can’t say. I look forwards to seeing the new edition when it’s ready!

FATE SF: You also published a novel set in the world of Mindjammer. Can you tell us a bit about the book?

SARAH: I’ve been absolutely delighted with how the Mindjammer novel has been received – it’s been really inspiring to hear from people who’ve read and enjoyed it. It’s a very action-packed tale, true to the roleplaying setting in style and atmosphere, but at the same time it tries to say something significant about what it means to be human—the essence of transhumanism. It’s set in a cluster of worlds called Solenine, on the edge of Commonality space—a “lost colony” which has recently been rediscovered by the Commonality and is in the throes of tumultuous culture shock. The heroes are a group of “culture agents” working for SCI Force—the Commonality’s Security and Cultural Integrity Instrumentality—who stumble upon a conspiracy of interstellar proportions. I won’t say any more, except to say that what they find has implications not just for the Solenine Cluster but for the whole human race – it’s transhuman space opera on a big scale!

I had a blast writing the novel – it was something which had been fermenting in my mind for a couple of years. It’s the first of three novels, forming a trilogy story arc—although you can read “Mindjammer” as a standalone story, the second novel, “Transcendence”, which I’m writing at the moment, continues the saga of the heroes of the first. That’s scheduled for release in 2013, again by Mindjammer Press.

You can find out loads more about the novel and the setting at, including snippets of me reading from chapter one, and sample chapters.

FATE SF: I noticed that the future interstellar setting of Mindjammer includes government ministries called “Instrumentalities”. Was Cordwainer Smith with his "The Instrumentalities of Mankind" an influence on the setting you created? A favorite author?

SARAH: Well-spotted! Cordwainer Smith is one of my all-time favorite science-fiction authors, and the “instrumentalities” are a tip of the hat to his genius. He’s a fascinating character – the “father” of modern psychological warfare, a Christian, a profound scholar of Chinese culture, and a wonderfully lyrical and imaginative writer of what we now call “science-fiction”.

Together with Olaf Stapledon, to me he’s one of the few writers who really conveys just how strange the future is going to be. Science-fiction shouldn’t be about 21st century people in the far future, with 21st century attitudes, behaviors, and ideas; it should be about what the people of the far future are going to be like – what people are going to become, to evolve into. We’re back to transhumanism again – and I’d consider Cordwainer Smith to be one of transhumanism’s most poetic and inspirational proponents. If anyone out there hasn’t read him, I strongly recommend his work!

Please come back on Monday for Part II of our interview with Sarah!

Here is contact information for Sarah Newton, as well as links for Mindjammer the RPG and the novel!

Sarah Newton (website:
Facebook: / Twitter: @SarahJNewton

Find out more about Mindjammer at

You can buy the Mindjammer novel in Kindle and trade paperback format at Amazon:


CreateSpace (

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Barsoom for SBA

With the recent invasion from Jansoom,  it is an appropriate time to resume our little series on Barsoom.

Doctor Who's Map of Barsoom



Type of Planet: Terrestrial Planet, Planetary Class/Scale 8

Primary Terrain: Desert

Atmosphere: Breathable, but thinning atmosphere

Moons and Ring Systems:
  • No ring
  • Two Moons: Cluros (Deimos) and Thuria (Phobos)
Population: Great (Millions)
  • Reference article from "Barsoomian Analysis 1: Demography, Polity, Society, and Economy" by Christian Sildan
  • Barsoom has multiple intelligent races, including Red Martians and Green Martians (both of whom Burroughs describes as "human" several times in A Princess of Mars), the Holy Therns, the White Apes, etc.
  • Diplomacy: +2 (Fair) - Individual states (such as Helium) excel in diplomacy, although there is no central planetary government (just like Jansoom) 
  • Resources (Wealth): +6 (Fantastic) - Many states are fabulously wealthy
  • Resources (Materials): -2 (Terrible) - Extensive technological and state intervention is required to maintain agriculture, water, and a breathable atmosphere
  • Resources (Industrial): +4 (Great) - Many states have significant industrial capacity, and access to raw materials such as metals
  • Military capability: +5 (Superb) - Most states as well as hordes maintain huge standing armies; states also maintain air navies
  • Planetary security: +2 (Fair) - Many spy networks, but constant inter-state conflict creates vulnerability to other threats (such as to Green Martian hordes)
  • Tech level: +4 (Great) - Barsoom's Red Martian states have a higher technology level than Earth's
  • Trade level: 0 (Mediocre) - Travel on Barsoom is dangerous making long-distance trade impractical; Barsoom also lacks the ability to trade off world

Mandatory Aspects:

  • Planetary Government: Multiple warring states and hordes
  • Parent Star classification: Main sequence star (Sol)

  • Other Aspects:

  • A dying world dependent on atmosphere factories
  • A desert planet crisscrossed with canals
  • Decadent city states ruled by Red Martians
  • Abandoned cities on dry desert seas inhabited by Green Men
  • A war of all against all

  • Monday, August 6, 2012

    Diversicon Doctor Who Gaming Report

    It has become something of a tradition for me to run games that play on Diversicon Guests of Honor and their works. In the past I have run Spirit of the Century, Tales of the Caliphate Nights (True 20), and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.  

    So, I thought I'd share a brief report on the Doctor Who game that I ran at Diversicon 20 this weekend. The scenario was called "The Lion's Blood, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and was designed to include tributes to current and past Guests of Honor at Diversicon, including Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, and Nnedi Okorafor.

    Amanda Hall's original cover illustration for
    Zahrah the Windseeker
    The scenario set-up was similar to the Faction Paradox spin-off of Doctor Who: the Timelords were carrying-out a long war against an unspecified Enemy (a greater threat than the Daleks) who had shattered and fragmented spacetime into many conflicting and ever-shifting alternaties.

    There were two players, which was just fine. One player chose to play Sarah Jane Smith; the other chose to play Martha Jones.

    They found themselves on a War Tardis with all sorts of terrible weapons of mass destruction. I may stat-up a few of them for FATE SF in the very near future. The PCs soon found that the War Tardis also had about 1,000 Daleks on board: the Daleks were allies of the Timelords in the current war against the Enemy. The good news: only one of the Daleks on-board this ship was a traitor.

    Long story short, the scenario went pretty well. I had prepped for action on three worlds, including Steven Barnes' alternate history Alamo-mosque from Lion's Blood, a jungle planet named Guinea, based on the planet settled by West Africans in Nnedi Okorafor's Zahrah the Windseeker, and (although we didn't get there) a carved stone church in Lalibela church complete with Weaping Angels disguised as statues of saints. This last destination was going to riff on Tananarive Due's African Immortals series.

    I adapted a several aliens from Hereticwerks for the scenario, including the Synthetic Soldiers and the 30' tall cyber soldiers known as the Rilligong, who were both servants of the Enemy (the Judoon NPCs were no match for the Rilligong!), and an Achernarian trader, who was helpful to the PCs, and received a Dalek from them in exchange for the help (this did not end well for our Achernarian).

    All in all, it was a fun experience. I like the system (especially its order of conflict: Talk-->Run-->Do Something-->Fight, which is very Whoovian) and the wide-open setting. I'd like to run a version of this again (or at least a couple scenes) in a longer time slot (I was scheduled for two hours and we played for three).

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    The Planetary Romance: 100 Years Later (Diversicon Panel)

    These are my prep notes for Saturday's panel:

    Cover by Jon Foster

    Panel: The Planetary  Romance, 100 Years Later: How is Mars Holding up These Days?  2012 saw the release of the movie John Carter, close to a century after the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Let’s talk about the film and the novels on which it was based, and about the genre—the planetary romance—unto which it helped to give birth.  John Everett Till, mod.; Eleanor Arnason, Edward E. Rom, Mark Tersteeg    

    Planetary Romance - John Clute's definition from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:  

    "Any sf tale whose primary venue (excluding contemporary or near future versions of Earth) is a planet, and whose plot turns to a significant degree upon the nature of that venue... it cannot simply be set upon a world...cannot be used for a tale set upon a planet whose mysteries are solvable in hard sf terms... In the true planetary romance, the world itself encompasses - and generally survives - the tale which fitfully illuminates it."

    Gary K. Wolfe in Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: "broadly, an adventure tale set on another, usually primitive planet."     

    '"Swords and Planets" has also been used to describe this kind of fiction.   


    Clute cites Clark Ashton Smith as one of the earliest authors to write in this vein. Others include Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline. C.L. Moore (Nortwest Smith), Jack Vance (Big Planet, Planet of Adventure), Leigh Brackett (Mars and Skaith), Bradley (Darkover), Moorcock's "Kane of Mars", Farmer's World of Tiers, Silverberg (Lord Valentine's Castle), and even (at least partially) Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun provide other examples. I suppose even Niven's Ringworld owes a big debt to the planetary romance.

    Game publisher Paizo Publishing has reprinted a number of the early examples (Kline, Brackett, Moore) as part of its Planet Stories imprint.

    A recent example of the planetary romance is  Chris Roberson's Paragaea (2006).      

    Tabletop RPGs:

    From the lips of the exquisite Dejah Thoris:

    To the Tharks: 

    "Why, oh why, will you not learn to live in amity with your fellows, must you ever go on down the ages to your final extinction but little above the plane of the dumb brutes that serve you [i.e., the thoats, the Green Martian's mounts]! A people without language, without art, without homes, without love; the victim of eons of the horrible community idea. Owning everything in common, even to your women and children, has resulted in you owning nothing in common."
    -A Princess of Mars, The Library of America edition (2012), p. 92.       

    So, Dejah rather neatly recapitulates the entirety of 19th Century White racist discourse about the native peoples of North America, while adding in a decidedly early 20th C. fear of communism.  

    At the same time, Burroughs repeatedly describes the Green Martians as "human," so what gives?  And he wrote them to be a LOT more interesting (if less sexy) than the Red Martians.

    Notable New Publication:

    Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, ed. John Joseph Adams (2012).

    Cover by Mark Zug