Boarding Actions and Zhontaar re-re-(re?-) revisited, part 2
“What if Zhontaar wasn’t a science-fantasy planetary setting, but a solar system or subsector?”
That’s the question teasing the gaming part of my brain these days. From the various inspirations and influences swirling around in my head there’s been a slow but steady drip of distilled ideas…
I have yet to determine the exact cause of the apocalypse which shattered the Terran Federation in the 19th Aeon. The fragmentary surviving histories suggest some sort of weird cosmic cataclysm that triggered widespread warfare and panics and drove many artificial intelligences insane. Some condemn the works of “wizards” who sought to harness power from other dimensions, others blamed science and computers run amok; no one has identified a specific culprit with any certainty.
There are seven planets in the Zhontaar system as well as quite a few moons, planetoids, asteroids, and artificial satellites; the majority of the populated worlds are ruled by aristocratic descendants of pre-apocalyptic noble houses and megacorporate boards of directors. There are other inhabited systems in the sector, but the Zhontaari factions have yet to re-establish any other colonies of the Federation.
Humans constitute the majority of the population of the Seven Planets, but they are not the only sentient species. There are also many strains of “para-human,” genetically-engineered hybrids of human and Old Terran animal stock (such as various subspecies of beastmen, lizardmen, birdmen, etc.). The Draala, an amoeboid race, have colonies on several worlds but rarely involve themselves in interplanetary affairs.
Something borrowed from Fading Suns (one of my favorite published sci-fi RPG settings) is the idea that although plenty of high technology remained after the galactic apocalypse, people lost much of their ancestors’ advanced knowledge– tech can still often be repaired or recharged, but not necessarily replicated. This latter bit applies principally to starships, complex robots and computers, and ultratech weapons (such as plasma cannons). As a result:
- Spacecraft, although still fairly plentiful, are highly prized by all factions. Because no one can build new ships, it is common to find older ships that have taken on a ramshackle look from year of heavy service, repair and jury-rigged “upgrades.”
- Space combat is largely reduced to boarding actions, as no one wants to damage a spaceworthy vessel or its cargo. For the same reasons, ship-mounted weapons are generally either antipersonnel in nature (machine guns, fragmentation/flechette “piercer” rockets designed to penetrate the hull and explode inside) or temporarily disabling the enemy ship to facilitate boarding (grappling harpoons, ion/EMP projectors).
A schizophrenic guy I used to interact with at the library would occasionally let loose these these fascinating stream of consciousness rants filled with all sorts of bizarre fantastic imagery, with references to “Earth Solar Law,” pit fiends, fear spells, “tone bursts” as weapons, being sentenced to “Solar Prison” for committing crimes against other “energy groups,” alien invasions through black holes, magic crowns, the supremacy of the Head Knowledger, government access to the invisible/invincible/investable security level and so on. I often thought his ramblings would make for a fascinating story or game setting, so here’s my chance… Maybe he wasn’t crazy after all, he was just haunted by visions of a crumbling interstellar civilization aeons in the future! A couple bits I’ve worked out so far:
- Solar Prison is an extra-dimensional space inside Zhontaar’s corresponding star in the Shadow Dimension, where the System’s worst criminals were imprisoned. The theoretical underpinnings of interdimensional travel is sketchy at best, but many devices — including the means of incarceration in and extraction from Solar Prison — still operate at varying levels of efficiency.
- The Head Knowledger (HK) refers to a pre-Fall artificial intelligence responsible for archiving all the knowledge of the known universe. According to the histories, the HK was constructed in its own special ship completely staffed by robots and computers with the mission of travelling through the galaxy, cataloging and storing information. Its current status and whereabouts are unknown. Scholars now consider the HK to be a sort of Rosetta Stone or Holy Grail that would enable them to restore civilization to the shining, utopian level of pre-Fall Galactic civilization.
- The most obvious possibility for “Tone bursts” as weapons would be a Weirding Module or some other means of sonic warfare. Details still hazy, check back later.
Not much about Boarding Actions or X-Plorers in this one, but there’s more still to come!