Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Extrapolation Game, Mothership Edition

There's nothing I like better than a background detail I can pull on and flesh out. Dark Souls lore videos are bread and butter to me. I'll talk your ear off about Book of the New Sun. So I've dug through the tables in the Players' Survival Guide and Dead Planet and figured out A) what I can infer from them raw and B) what gameable I can develop using that.

A Brief History of Hideous Dust (Book)

A street drug of obscure origin that has a reputation more appropriate for that of a minor bioweapon. It is a fine golden powder either ingested or inhaled, producing a rather pleasant and mellow buzz. The hideous part comes later, when it destroys your teeth, rots your skin, atrophies your muscles, and leaves your brain in a constant haze of fantastic visions devoted entirely to spreading more dust. The part where your organs restructure themselves and emerge from your skin-cocoon comes later.

The "brief history" details manufacturing, smuggling routes, wide-scale outbreaks, political responses and lack thereof, and the spread of Hideous Dust across settled space. Generally quite well-researched and even-handed.

Papal Order of Planetary Excommunication

An incredibly rare document, in that only nine have ever been written. Typical excommunications require that the recipient be baptized, delinquent, and refuse to change their actions, and so planetary writs can only be applied to the Papal Colonies.

The second-most notable incident is that of the community on St. Jubileus, where a monastic colony of 550 persons was excommunicated for heresy and improper use of reproductive biotech. (Pregnant priests are always good fodder for the gossip feeds).

The most notable incident is that of St. Severian, which was excommunicated, stripped of long-distance communication, carpet-bombed, and put under interdiction by an alliance of over eight thousand vessels from Papal client polities with full permissions to shoot down any ship that enters the 10 AU exclusion zone. There is no explanation why.

"A New Great Darkness" (Pamphlet)

The first Great Darkness was a multi-decade period of widespread information loss brought about by a combination of inadequate education programs, sudden and incompatible shifts in commonly-used file formats, and deliberate corporate and governmental censure. The period has come to be referred to as a period of great spiritual darkness as well as technological and informational.

The anonymous writer of this pamphlet believes that a new Great Darkness is at this juncture unavoidable, and so calls for the preservation of vital information and technologies that can be re-introduced into the noosphere.

Great Space Battles of the Delta Sector (Book)

Delta Sector (being the territory rimward and widdershins of Old Earth) has always been politically unstable. The mix of cultural and corporate structures that settled those worlds turned out to be a perfect mix for conflict, and enough time has passed that folks can look back on the conflicts with  that strange sort of historical nostalgia that would name gigantic bloodbaths "great".

"The Shedding of Flesh" (Pamphlet)

A widespread pro-augmentation and pro-upload screed, notable for encouraging violent dismissal of any individuals unwilling or incapable of such augmentations. Really just another tired argument for social darwinism. Popular among corporate-backed parties, causes the Cyberneticists' Union endless trouble.

Alien-Human Hybrid Fetus

It's an unassuming little bundle of proteins and chemicals. Barely even properly alive. But it can integrate itself into human DNA during natal development, and this is a fearsome thing indeed. The changes are small at first - then comes the carapace, the mandibles, the additional arms and legs, the extra eyes, the restructured brain. Those little bundles weren't the building blocks of life, they were the leftovers: a means of invading the future.

Breast Pocket Satanic Bible

Prosaically subtitled "A Survival Guide for Life in Hell", this slim tome provides all manner of helpful and practical moral advice for people trapped in a dehumanizing, alienating, and exploitative environment fueled by cruelty and hubris (which is most of the human population). It is written in-character, from the perspective of Satan reflecting on his failed rebellion and the consequences thereof.

Racehorse Sperm

Horses, proper horses at least, are extinct. The genelines are trademarked, copywritten, and held in perpetuity among a relatively small cadre of corporate families. They are a completely arbitrary ultraluxury. They don't even modify the horses. It's just normal horseracing and no one knows why.

Everyone else gets by with camels, llamas, alpacas, oxen, buffalo, the occasional okapi, and assorted neogenic chimeras and prehistoric megafauna restorations.

Primitive Humanoid Native of the Dead Planet

The Dead Planet is the Earth of a Zothique future. The native life is just a hominid descendant species returning to self-awareness after ages of ignorance and darkness. They are very much like the humanity of the past, but the Dead Planet has undone their attempts at growth and civilization, leading them down the road towards a swift extinction if the situation remains as it is.

A Figure in Red Eats the Face of a Horse, Children Smile, the Sun is Black (Painting)

A pseudolegendary cursed painting by an unknown artist. Most of the known owners have died or gone mad under mysterious circumstances, though the art world of the far future is a deadly game on its own so that's not the most unlikely thing. The rumors surrounding it are remarkably inconsistent, save that it is the rightful property of the Red King of Galgorrada, a planet that appears in no other records. There is one security feed of a prior owner meeting with an "emissary of the Court", but the dark-robed figure was not recorded as saying anything, and the owner was found dead by a secretary later that afternoon.

Pocket AI

Cheap, simple intelligences used as personal assistants and occasional companions.  It's common for creators both corporate and open-source to build them with preset character personalities, complete with friendships, rivalries, and romantic relationships with other characters.

A Hollowed-Out Holy Book Containing Sacred Assassination Knives

The assassin monks of the planet Gone-Away don't actually exist. Their beliefs, holy books, sacred knives, secret rites and public declarations of intent are an elaborate ruse used to throw off the actual assassinations through subtle triggering of pre-existing medical conditions.

Snake/Rabbit/Parrot Hybrid

Felipsittacines are a common domestic splice and family pet: incredibly intelligent, capable of mimicking human speech and learning complex sentence responses. Terribly lazy, more than willing to sit around and let everyone dote on them.

Powdered Xenomorph Horn

It's used for exactly the same reason rhino horn was, and has the exact same effect, because humans are awful and never learn. The source species in question is a species of large, shelled pseudomammal native to the river deltas of Braunhouser IV. Males use their horns in combat, to make loud trumpeting calls, and may flush them with bright colors as a display of prowess.

Trilobite Fossils

A charm symbolizing good fortune and endurance. Trilobites lasted for over 300 million years, after all. It possesses a certain resonance with the explosion of human-seeded life across the stars, a second Cambrian Explosion in the astral sea. It's not properly part of a religion, not really. Just something to hold on to and think of home.

"Signs of Parasitical Infection" (Pamphlet)

Parasite infections are common enough in space travel that a quick means of identifying them is a necessity for any ship's doctor. Included in this pamphlet are some common Marginal pests:
  • Gravworm
  • Oil Fungus
  • Meat (TM)
  • Astral Ticks
  • Backpacker Wrigglers
  • Tax Collection Androids
  • Infectiou Nano-Spambots


  1. Will the Mothership ever stop? Can I ever slow down?

    Probably not!

  2. I really need to get hold of this book

    1. One of the best RPG investments out there.

  3. what the heck is Meat (TM)? I'm afraid...

  4. I've binged your Mothership posts over the past few days, and now I am filled with a burning need to run it and write about it. God I love hard sci-fi...

    1. I'm feeling something like the Night's Dawn trilogy with schisms between bioengineering and hard technology factions... Maybe with cortical stack backups.

  5. I feel like a part of the horror of a MEAT(TM) infection is the fact that corrupted tissue is no longer legally "you" and can (and will!) be sold to hungry buyers without your consent by the trademark owners.

    Perhaps it's not so much a biological infection as a retrovirus inserting copyright-law-bound pseudogenes into your delicious flesh. Well, not "your" flesh. Not anymore. Oh God. This is way too plausible.

  6. Very imaginative. It actually reminds me a lot of early cyberpunk writings, sorta merged or filtered through the lens of Alastair Reynolds SF. Perhaps not ‘near future’ but a little further on. I’m starting to think you’ve written enough to really sketch out a playable universe quite well. It isn’t a brief sketch any more. I might just borrow this and plug in some old Traveller modules when I finally get a chance to try Mothership out on my players.

    Were you thinking of turning this into a published thing at all?

    1. At this point I'd be negligent to not compile it.

      The funny thing is, I didn't enjoy Revelation Space all that much.

    2. I did and I didn’t. But a lot of the ideas stuck. It’s all
      Blurred in though with some other things I read at the time(which was quite stress full due to work and other shit) so I’ve been meaning to re-read. Looking forward to seeing a compilation when you’re ready. It’s good stuff.

  7. I can't let it go! Let's tinker with the MEAT(TM) infection.
    A) you know in the spacefuture it would be trivially easy to create several different ways to excise the invasive, trademarked genetic material. It's been done. All of the easy and most of the difficult methods are also proprietary and their bootlegging is HEAVILY punished.
    B) If the trademarked nucleotide sequences are inserted right next to important regulatory genes, tampering runs a high risk of causing debilitating necrosis or metabolic problems.
    C) why not splice a few phenotypically-indistinguishable-but-legally-distinct-enough-to-patent spice-producing genes in there? Pepper, coriander, increased glutamate storage. I'd say increased intracellular sodium levels too if it could be arranged (you'd have to tinker with a lot of vital mechanisms that prevent that very thing. If you could, horror side-benefit: nerves and muscles affected cease to function reliably if at all). Pre-season the product. It's Not Legally A Person Anymore!(TM)

    by the bye, I also LOVE the "Figure in Red" painting and the blasphemous St. Severian colony.

    1. According to Fiona that painting is both A) real and B) a self portrait so we now have confirmation to longstanding suspicions that she is a high ranking member of the court of Carcosa.

      Also, that;s terrifying as hell and I approve.

    2. ohhhh, I'm looking forward to reading more posts on Carcosan art appreciation! A self-portrait raises it to new heights of dread.

      And thank you, for you know from terror! I worry we may have the technology and the pathological levels of late capitalism to make it possible. Fleshing out the idea (no pun intended) feels like my best legal recourse against some biotech giant patenting it later.
      Future readers: If I spark a cannibal dystopia, know I probably died tasting delicious and no blame should be adduced to this incredibly good blog. Also, sorry about that.