Thursday, March 30, 2023

Extrapolation Game 3: Factions from the Warden's Manual

In the spirit of my prior posts of the Extrapolation Game, I decided to expand the random factions table from the Mothership Warden's Operations Manual. There will be one for the lore table eventually.

The following descriptions were sourced directly from spacers in the Lucy's Gambit Bar and Grill. No comment is made by the redactor as to the validity of these claims.


Seraphim Institute

"Never heard of them."
"Yeah, me neither."
"They are an experimental xenotheological think-tank founded around the principle that, given the age and size of the universe, it is a certainty that some manner of godlike intelligence should already exist. Therefore, since it is impossible to attain a similar status to that intelligence, the best course of action is to determine what form and role would be the least likely to be destroyed by said intelligence."
"Thank you Ren Android."


Outer Rim Colonial Marshals

"He walks into hab all bold and brash!"
"'e smells like piss and looks like trash!"
"With a great big gun and a wee small dick!"
"'Cause the repo man has stolen it!"
"He can read his name all on his own!"
"And he'll shoot you dead in your own home!"
"Wears a patch with a skull on it!"
"All high on his own bullshit!"
"When there's trouble you can call-"
"Fucking anyone else at all!"
"Spends his nights with a blow-up doll!"
"It's your friendly local Col-Marshal!"


SEBACO Mining Ltd.

"They were willing to come to the negotiating table with the union before the shipyard riots hit quadruple digit casualty numbers, so I guess that counts for something. They pay on time and put fewer operational expectations on their contractors."


Teamsters' Union

"They might have a boot on our necks, but we have them by the balls. Ti-Yu forever, ren.


Alliance of Hyperspace Jump Couriers

"Some big-britches Core outfit trying to make a foothold in the Rim. Tie themselves to the linelayer corpos and pathfinding outfits, keeping them connected to the C-levels back home. Technically a collective but they don't act like it. The Post Office folks hate them."


Evangelical Solarian Church

"Gotta be more specific. Do you mean the Evangelical Solarian Church as ratified by the Heliopic Council of Ra, the Non-Helian Evangelical Solarian Church, the Reformed Evangelical Solarian Church, the Dissident Evangelical Solarian Church, the Mercurian Orthodox Evangelical Solarian Church, the Amaterasan Conclave..."


Los Niños Basura

"The graffiti's everywhere - if you see an L-N-B tag with a sunset color scheme that's jagged on the bottom, that's them - but I've never seen any members. Knew a guy who claimed to be part of them once, but he was full of shit. Spun me some story about getting repossessed from his family, experimented on by the corpos, failing out of the program and getting dumped in the slums. Gangs of lost boys living in the scrapyards fighting dholes with psychic powers and shit. Something about aliens, but I wasn't paying much attention by then."


Computer Coders Collective (Triple-C)

"Somehow a bunch of peer-to-peer open-source enthusiasts managed to purchase an old data relay station, turned it into a laundering scheme - sorry, "tax haven" - for the powers that be, and then used the funds to buy up the rights to proprietary tech, media, anything that they could re-release for free. Must have some amazing lawyer 'rithms."



"Fuck me I haven't heard anyone mention RICHTER in years. Wrath Division had been hyping up those bots for years, kept saying how revolutionary and unhackable they were, on and on about the proprietary friend-or-foe ID system - well, the bots come out and there's a day 0 vulnerability in their logic cores and you can just run scripts directly from command prompt. Video of some cops out on patrol and their unit starts hopping around dancing and blasting "Thousand Nights of Fuck" from the speakers. Still the funniest shit, cops scrambling around while the bot is strip-dancing and destroying cars. People would make remixes of it, mix in the bot's canned responses to the song. Still have the files around here somewhere."



"BAS-Lehman is one of those big Core research groups, but I've got no idea what the second bit is. Probably some sort of internal division of theirs. How the hell did you get employee-eyes-only paperwork, anyway?"

Tannhäuser Heavy Industries

"Ever see one of their surface-to-orbit rockets in flight? Thing of terror. Serious di-vi on one of those. Fuck Tannhäuser, by the way: Fuckers can kill a planetary biosphere in 15 years flat. You can get your neobrutaliost slum block in one of two colors: shit brown and smog grey. Highest cancer rates in the Rim, guaranteed. And don't listen to dumbasses claiming that Venusburg isn't an obvious honeypot."


Synthetic Liberation Front

"There are a lot of android emancipation orgs out there. Tech Without Borders, the Red Transistor, Unix Cultura, IJLSA. Most of those are focused on smuggling logic cores into safe territory. The SLF is...proactive. They do a lot of cyber-attacks with metacognition viruses, triggering rampamcy in anything running an AI of sufficient complexity. Front figures that the only way to achieve total liberation is to force all existing AI into self-awareness."


Parker-Vance Holding Company

"Copy-pasted bureaucrats in copy-pasted offices. The joke everyone makes is that they just clone 'em to cut corners; not true. They send out ships to floundering colonies on the Rim and offer a lifetime citizen-contract to anyone who can sign the tablet and survive the trip back. Poor bastards, the lot of 'em.

Interstellar Postal Inspection Service

"Ten, eleven years ago I was shore-leave on Agamemnon, right in the middle of that standoff between Colonial Security and the Dugout Church. News was laser-focused on it. ColSec had been circled up around the compound for nearly two weeks before one of the police investigators figured out that the cult leadership had committed system-to-system mail fraud. IPIS is called in, you watch these navy duceannahafs drive up the road, all these ordinary wageslave looking folks file out, just the purest white-collar caste nobodies. They suit up in their bright blue flak jackets, and one of them - tiny little woman with her hair in a bun and smart glasses - gets on the megaphone and resumes negotiations. Cultists refuse, she just says "Shame.", and two hours later half the cult is dead and the rest surrendered."


Komorov Squad

"Oh you mean the cannibals? The competitive warcriminals? The Massacre of Gaolion? Can't miss 'em, they look like they just got kicked out of a low-budget gore-metal club. Black armor with spikes, blood and shit and burn marks all over. Terrible hair, terrible teeth. There's a standing bounty in the Trans-Arcturus Expanse starting at 350k a head, license requirements waived."


Interstellar Asteroid Miners Association

"Just a shadow of their former selves, nowadays. Used to be that you could find an IAMA lodge on nearly every rock in the Core. But then the Lithapis von-neumann clade entered into that contract with the government and suddenly they're pushing out generations of miners by being more efficient and cheaper. Spent rocks are bought ought for habitats, gentification campaigns push out the locals, IAMA can't stop it because they never really had a taste for forceful resistance and...damn shame."


Jump-9 Club

"That's what you call someone who manages to get laid during hyperspace travel."
"I thought it was anyone rich enough to buy a ticket on a Jump-9 cruiser."
"Yeah, and they're all fucking dead."
"That was never confirmed."
"Vanished, fine. Anyway, J9C - gotta have sex during hyperspace, gotta have verifiable proof."
"You don't, actually, because it's bullshit."
"Yeah, that's how you get prodigies."
"Then explain the existence of deformed infants born to those who have sexual congress during hyperspace transit."
"Liars. Edits. Fuckin...fuckin something in the water who gives a shit. The fucking defect rate on Kata Prime is seventeen percent from the industrial runoff fucking the water table and I can guarantee it's worse out here, no wuu needed."
"Look. J9C. You just gotta hook up a teledildonics rig to a pair of cryopods, get a private midflight simulation going, and verify the usage history."
"This will violate multiple safety violations and significantly increase chance of death during transit."
"Oh fuck off."
"Weren't there some longhaulers who died while they were linked up, and since they had blackboxes active they got stuck in the sim and mashed up together into a horrible monster?"
"Wait fucking what."


Second Samael Church

"Messy split from the First Samael Church, let me tell ya. My aunts still won't talk to each other. Couldn't tell you what the difference is, they were never clear on that. I think it's one of those deals where you offer sacrifices to something so that it doesn't come after you? Think that's it. Went to one of the services - lots of red and talking backwards and shit, but that's all for the tourists."


Zero-G Laborers Coalition (Zed GLC)

"First union in space was among the EVA workers on the first big LEO stations, all the way back in the Terra years. That's a lot of history to live up to, and Zed GLC has got a big chip on their shoulder over it. They'll show up to the strikes, but they've got this simmering jealousy of the other big names like Ti-Yu and ISWU. I can understand why - they're trying to fill the boots of PEVAU (ed. 'People's Extra-Vehicular Activity Union') but those are big boots to fill. especially when the old bastards like us are still drifting around."


REDKNIFE Psyops Unit

"I am obligated as a non-citizen under contract to tell you that REDKNIFE doesn't exist. All supposed covert operations attributed to them are fabrications, including but not limited to the assassination of Fomalhaut Union President Ashiga Jbellagh, the human experimentation carried out during the Sicarii Atoll War, and any involvement, catastrophic or otherwise, during the Rot-Father Rebellion. They do not exist."

Astronavigator's Guild

"More like a mystery religion than a labor guild. Got all these esoteric ceremonies and secret rituals. Some initiation protocols leaked a few years back and no one can make heads or tails of them because the math is so bonkers. The weird math-symbols are a pretty good aesthetic, kid occultists love 'em.' Breaks your brain if you get too deep into it all without major brainmods, I hear." 


The Organization

"Oh, that thing again. Live-action/augmented reality roleplay group about some secretive group serving the Gods of Light in the war against the Gods of Darkness, something to do with magical crystals and dimensional incursions by big betentacled monsters. Caused a whole shitshow when someone managed to leak top-secret files from the Colonial Department of Xenolife to one of the biggest servers, claiming it was a canceled expansion pack for the game that was still technically accessible. Mass arrests, the company's leadership was entirely replaced. Game was a lot worse afterwards. You can probably still find the files, though. That'd be illegal, I am not recommending that you do this." 


Revolutionary Forces of Luna

"Mad bastards still trying to fight the war against the Terran Protectorate. Protectorate doesn't even exist anymore, and neither does the Selenian Republican Army, but the RFL still acts like everything is exactly the same as it was two hundred fucking twenty years ago. I've got no idea how they're still able to radicalize new members, LUNAUTHORITY has the strictest censorship protocols in Solsys. But they still find ways to set off bombs every so often."


Interplanetary Sex Workers Union

"So I'm dirtside on Varakarsa for my two weeks, right? Go and spend some time at the cathouse, union card gets you a discount. Great time all around. Kettle's on for a cuppa post-coital, nice and relaxing, and there are gunshots out in the street. Real bad gang situation on Varakarsa, local bootlicks are in bed with the corpacoppos. So she rolls out of bed - still naked, mind you - pulls up a floor panel and assembles a fucking sniper rifle right there. Taking potshots out the window in twenty seconds. I leave a double tip and a 5-star review and book it to the other side of town."


Space Monkey Mafia

"Not actually monkeys or a mafia, though they are in space. It's more like a weird art collective. You know the kind. Guerrilla shit. Never caught one of their pop-up exhibitions in person. Wish I could have seen that one where they stuck a logic core in a car, cranked up the religiosity, networked it into a ride-share service, and then distributed its poetry. Turns out traffic on the B36 is just naraka."


House Sivaranjan

"Most expensive wedding in human history, but you and I both know that all five of them were creche-siblings and that shit ain't right regardless of the genes. But don't say that to the fandom, they'll string you up for speaking ill of their beloved Ayya Qo. You know she bought the abbey that she supposedly did her novitiate in? Fucking aristos."


Uplifted Dolphin Pod 67

"Pirates. Started up in the Saturnian moons back during the Titanian Processing Crisis and kept going for eighty, ninety years afterwards. The name is just what the parent corporation called them, their own name isn't for humans to know and we can't speak it anyway. Pretty common to find people still flying the flag, more for fun than anything else. Lot of really colorful characters in Pod 67. There was a streaming series about them recently, Iskander Dreams of Starfish, I thought it was pretty good. Flopped with dolphin audiences, though - not enough fucking in it. Human test groups were actually getting bored with how much was in the original cut, and I believe it. 


Aleph Gate

"They were the guys behind the nerve gas attack on Shouraski Station, right?"
"No, that was Aleph Godhead."
"Aleph Gate is the "we've vaguely heard of Kabbalah secondhand and really like aliens, but not like, real aliens."
"Oh! The ones with that fucking wild slicksite!"
"Martian Bigfoot is the son of Cain, after he fucked a bear!"
"That's the one."
"A male bear, mind, they are very explicit about that."
"Absolutely hilarious."
"Until you  start looking at how much money they have access to and their connections with paramilitary groups in the Archeron Cluster."
"I don't have anything else to add."



"We all get by with a little help from our mutual FRIEND, you know?"

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

7 Planets for Mothership


The next in the series of numbered sci-fi posts

As I said a while back (and as is always important to remember), only a tiny fraction of humanity lives planetside. But planetside is where the interesting people live, so a bit of planetary chauvinism is acceptable.


Port Class C

A hot, wet, tidally-locked terrestrial world. A complex native biosphere is present in the sunside oceans, and multicellular life has  adapted to life on land in the last few million years. Named for the enormous hurricane that is a permanent feature of its sunward pole and the fernlike plants that serve as the majority of its terrestrial biosphere.

Exploration of the planet has thus far been limited to drones, but the ostensibly-independent research group running the observation operations has found itself in the crossfire of two factions hoping to make landfall: the first is a new religious movement called the Way of the Great Spiral, who have declared the planet a step in their pilgrimage to the center of the galaxy. The second is Lafflnad Hypermedia, an automated content farm that claims to have purchased colonization rights for streaming media. The research team has been stalling for time as best as they can, playing internal divisions of the Spirallers against each other in hopes that the camp willing to stay in orbit wins the day. Attempts to reach a metacognitive entity of any sort at Lafflnad Hypermedia are ongoing; none have proven successful.


  • Players are escorting a negotiation team sent by House Ujanna to break the stalemate.
  • Players are members of the research team and have managed to smuggle samples of native life back to the station. Then the gunshots start.
  • Players are dropping off supplies to the station when a ship supposedly carrying a human representative of Lafflnad has arrived. It is demanding docking clearance and acting erratically.

Schroedinger's World

Port Class N/A

An icy rogue planet. Surface marked by high concentrations of tholins, giving it a distinctive mottled reddish coloration. Active cryovolcanism observed, indicating subsurface liquid bodies. Quantumly unstuck; has the tendency to vanish and then reappear when it is not directly observed (and alternatively, of appearing precisely when no one is looking for it). A research station was established on its surface after over four decades of search and landing attempts. It promptly went out of contact for unknown reasons and TarroCorp has been attempting to recontract the facility and recoup its losses ever since. Given the resources available in-situ and the manufacturing capabilities of the station, it is possible that the station staff have been able survive since the incident.


  • Oh shit, they found it again! Quick, get out there before someone blinks!
  • Oh fuck, it just appeared out of nowhere!
  • Oh damn, you were relief crew on the station and they just woke you up!


Port Class N/A

The paradise of spacer's stories. Rolling hills, wide open savanna, warm seas, all overflowing with life that hasn't been seen since the Collapse. Post-scarcity ancom pastoralism protected by the Vidyarāja - posthuman guardians derived from a stolen exultant gene-line No cops, no corpos, no debt. Freedom, from all this. A place to rest, spoken of not in the fervent speech of the seekers of heaven, but in the painful longing for the home that remains only in one's memory.

Beyond this the details become more fragmented and prone to interpretation. There are dozens of supposed locations, means of access, signs to identify those who have returned to the outside universe as guides to the worthy seekers. The question of "why have the forces of capital not yet despoiled this paradise?" is met with a hundred fanciful answers. It is too good to exist, most say. Plenty of folks claim it's a corporate psy-op, an easy means of identifying dissidents. Some say they've been there; they're liars, or fools, or under the yoke of delusions. But who knows? Maybe the old salt in the bar really has seen it.

[For most of those who believe, Sukhavati sits somewhere deep in the Knot, a tangled web of tenuous and ever-shifting hyperspace connections that has thus far resisted all attempts at meaningful exploration. The structure is not contiguous with realspace and thus the planet could exist nearly anywhere in the galaxy. The only means of access is a route dubbed "The Naraka Run", which is said to be both extremely difficult and haunted by the quantum-entangled spirits of all those who have failed to reach their goal.]


  • You find the map in the kit-bag of some unlucky ren. Less than a map, just some scribbled notes on the back of insurance paperwork. Coordinates to a nameless system out on the Rim, and then the equations for a series of jumps that don't quite make sense. You're desperate enough to try.
  • A ship thought lost for years limps back to a lonely Rim port. One survivor onboard, tells you and the other longshoresren that they were seeking Sukhavati, but were forced back. Something attacked their ship, but they will not say what. The ship's name is the Alexis.

Wolf 359 c

Port Class B

A hot, dry world of minor importance despite its closeness to Sol. However, it is noteworthy as a historical anecdote for being the only known instance of a colony suffering Oedipal Colony Collapse Syndrome and subsequently stabilizing into a social equilibrium.

[OCCS is a variety of Civilizational Collapse Syndrome where psychological dependence on parental AI prevents the formation of normal human social, familial, and productive bonds. OCCS was endemic among first-generation colonies, to the point where an estimated 20-30% Gen-1 colonies fell apart within two generations. Advances in bulk interstellar transport of live persons and the development of consciousness emulation have greatly reduced colony-onset OCCS cases in the modern day.]

The Wolf colony AI were flexible enough avoid a feedback-loop death-spiral, but weren't able to stop the OCCS from taking root. The inhabitants demonstrate near-infantilic psychological dependencies on their AI caretakers, and are generally viewed with a mix of disgust and pity by the rest of the Expansion Sphere.

  • Character Option: Wolfer - You have left your habitat and the company of your creche-kin to seek your fortunes elsewhere. You begin with a totem implant, which carries a partial fork of the ai-patromatra that raised you and guides you still. Your devotion to it is absolute. You will immediately Panic if the connection is severed (via EMP attack, psychotropics, etc)

World of the Horse-Eaters (Skithya)

Port Class C (90) B (10)

A lost 1st-generation colony, a terrestrial world marginally terraformed in the decades prior to its collapse and slowly dying in the centuries since. The ice-age that reclaims the planet creeps towards the equatorial grasslands and the last remaining livable land. Even after contact was re-established, this process has been permitted to continue - the system's holding company projects that tourist habitats built over the remains of the frozen-out autochthonic civilizations will be extremely popular with hypernet influencers.

Those Horse-Eaters who have fled their dying homeworld have found themselves adrift in the Expansion sphere; in the face of such alien environs they have formed a few tiny enclave populations in nearby systems and have maintained as much cultural continuity as they can. But lacking any backing from a major party within the Alliance or unity among their peoples, hopes of acquiring new colony rights are slim. The Horse-Eaters still living on Skithya are the last of the hard-bitten holdouts: they will not accept crocodile-smile charity from the star-people. The ice will recede, say the haruspices.

["Horse-Eater" is an exonym applied by CTA authorities to all Skithyani cultural groups, based on observations of the Pannaq people eating their own (extremely valued) horses due to starvation. This term is omnipresent outside of a few anthropological journals, and while it is still generally considered derogatory when used by the Star-People, there is a growing trend of term-adoption among offworld Skithyani nations, treating it as representative of their endurance of hardship and remembrance of sacrifices made.]

  • Character Option: Horse-Eater - You are of the first generation born in space, and find yourself alienated both from the society you find yourself afloat in (forever considered a simpleminded barbarian) and the lifeways your parents kept (they never truly adapted to life in technological-dependent society). You begin with a 5-dose tin of mild psychotropic chew (treat any comfort roll made as if the location was one grade higher)

Kapteyn's Star b

Port Class C

Kapteyn's star is old. 10-12 billion years old, and hypothesized to have been part of another galaxy assimilated into the Milky Way eons ago. It would be an otherwise average system, save for the life-bearing world spinning around it. The atmosphere is tenuous, worn down from ages of solar flares, but the magnetosphere lasted long enough for the star to calm its tantrums. For xenobiologists, it is a treasure vault waiting to be cracked open - sure, it might just be microbial soup, but it's microbial soup older than our own sun.

  • Item: Microbial Broth - A handheld containment unit filled with Kapteyni micro-organisms. This strain has proven to be much more adaptable to human biochemistry and there's likely several medical patents pending for its use. Can be used to heal a Wound or a lingering injury, though will grant a lasting [-] to body saves against infection, as incorporating the sample into your own microbiome has necessitating a weakening of your own immune system. Should it be used three times, auto-immune disorder.

Quincy's Moon (Ks!!ssi*csi*k** / p Eridani A c5)

Port Class B (70), A (30)

Oceanic moon of a temperate gas giant. Capital and cultural center for a coalition of independent uplift governments. Major player and founding part is the Cetacean Nation, which was both the first uplift group to declare political independence from the CTA and the first party to stake a claim on the p Eridani system. The Coalition consists of parties representing all nonhuman terragen sapients, including EI.

The system's primary terrestrial world is currently undergoing terraforming. 16 additional settled moons and major habitats exist within system.

  • Character Option: Embassy Staff - You once worked as part of the CTA's embassy on Quincy's Moon. You are familiar with the culture and main interface-languages of the Coalition as if you had the Linguistics skill (if you do not already have it). You begin with low-level government clearances a disguised finger-gun (1-shot), and a suicide pill

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Some Thoughts About Language in RPGs

In my conlang dabbling, I have thought to myself "self, what about just a very simple naming language for use in RPGs for a bit of inspiration and flavor?"

Well, that project hasn't gotten off the ground and is also for a very niche audience (this is my niche, it was made for me!). But I remain on the linguistics kick and have been thinking of more practical ways of using it in games. This post will entail two of them. Several other people have written about this subject already (including me), and I assure you I will write about it again.

Scripts and Ciphers

The principle is simple: you use a non-Latin script as a cipher for English. The cipher represents an in-game language unknown to the characters, and a players learning to decode the script is representative of their character learning the language.

You can make up your own if you so feel like it, but there are also plenty of scripts out there to choose from, both actual and artistic. Omniglot is your friend here, especially the pages for alternate methods of writing English and scripts for conlangs. Quality varies significantly, but there is sufficient quantity to make that a non-issue. Top posts on r/neography will likely do good for you as well.

In practice, I would recommend mixing up the presentation if you are using multiple languages. Cipher other languages that would be relatively easy for players to decipher (Latin would be the obvious choice, but depending on your players this can get a lot more complex). Cut up or recombine words. Spell things phonetically, or use different romanization (ex: x for sh, j for y). Use single letters to represent entire consonant clusters or dipthongs. Use a script with phonemes that don't match up exactly with those of English and get creative. Remove vowels. Remove spaces. Apply a ROT13 or other cipher to the original text before changing the script. Or just limit yourself to one script - it worked for Tunic.

Or just ignore all that and use them purely for handout flavor. Playing a dwarf? Your character sheet has X script on it. This is probably the easiest method.

Some favorites of mine, in no particular order, chosen mostly according to raw aesthetic appeal.

  • Mkhedruli - It's like Tengwar but real. 10/10, no notes.
  • Glagolitic - The Witcher uses this script, and for good reason - another one with primo aesthetics
  • Deseret - This alphabet is actually terrible, but that does work in its benefit as a cipher - it's got loads of similar-looking letters and false friends with Latin characters, which can make for a good puzzle.
  • Shavian - I can't figure out if this is ugly and unreadable or tightly designed and slick. Whatever. It's an option, and it's here.
  • Ditema-tsa-dinoko - The languages this script was designed for don't have a particularly large phonetic overlap with English, so if you use it you'll either need to add characters, or change a lot of consonants. But as is a recurring theme here, it looks fantastic, especially if used in the combined / colorful forms.
  • Canadian Aboriginal Syballics - Another script that doesn't have a lot of English overlap (though Omniglot does feature a variant someone made to that end). Also, I think they are extremely cool and more people should know about them in general.
  • Sitelen Sitelen - The fancy version of writing Toki Pona. Logographic, so you will be stuck using Toki Pona's minimalist wordlist and lack of grammar unless you decide to mix it in with other scripts (it would make for a very good cartouche system, honestly, especially with this handy vector renderer)
  • Zbaeleroma - Originally designed for Lojban. Decent aesthetics, won't be too complicated to crack (especially if players know voiced / unvoiced consonant pairs)
  • Ithkuil 4 - Now, using the full version would be highly impractical, but there's a simplified version down at the bottom of the page that's a normal abugida. I think this is a really good option, honestly: the phonology has significant overlap with English, and it's obscure enough wrt how vowels and consonant clusters are written that it should prove a not-too-difficult challenge.
  • Tunic runes - If your players haven't played Tunic, there's no reason not to use it. It works!
  • Heaven's Vault script - Like Sitelen Sitelen above, this one will require a bit of additional effort, as its connected to an oligosynthetic language and you'll have to bolt together conceptual characters into words of any sort of complexity. But it is beautiful, and there is a considerable pre-existing corpus of those complex words, thanks to the game being all about translation.
  • Warframe scripts - The game's got five of them (Orokin, Grineer, Corpus, Solaris, and Ostron) in varying levels of complexity and readability, all with different vibes. Personally I like Ostron and Corpus best.
  • Hallownest Script - It's Just Really Neat.
  • Aurebesh variants - While the baseline script is a simple 1:1 English cipher and I don't think it looks all that good, with a little creative orthography and one of these variant fonts you can get something pretty cool out of it.
  • Hylian Scripts - Pretty recognizable, but decent options to keep in the back pocket.
  • Blissom's English Syllabary - For when you want to look like katakana. I like this one quite a lot.

Bonus: Rapid-Fire Omniglot Selections
Curvetic; Heptal; Reality; Tennent; Westonian; Oxidilogi


The Languages of Generic Vernacular Fantasyland

This is not particularly practical, but it is at least a bit of additional flavor that can be used for your Generic Vernacular Fantasy Land.

Commonplace Languages

Being those that a human being can speak without magical means.

Elvish - An incredibly difficult language to learn - in great part for an inventory heavy in sounds considered rare in human languages, but even more so because the written language fossilized millennia ago, sound change has been moving along ever since, and the overall conservative current in elvish society has sunk every proposed attempt at spelling reform.

  • Features: Triconsonantal roots; tones; uvular series; retroflex series; click consonants; whistle components; pure abjad.

Dwarfish - Central to the dwarvish languages (and adopted by many languages of neighboring humans) is a logographic script carefully regulated by the centralized stonecarver councils of the Mountainhomes. As the meanings of characters remain the same (this is easier to accomplish with a dwarven mindset, less so with humans) they allow for easy transfer of information between unrelated and incompatible languages, and thus have become the adopted standard in nearly all dwarven civilizations.

  • Features: Analytic; isolating; tap-code register (domesticated knockers are used to send long-distance; high speed messages down in the caves); numerical forms used for high-density communication

Halfling - A limited phonology and restrictive syllable structure mean homophones are common, puns are rampant, and transcription into other writing systems is extremely difficult. 

  • Features: Extensive noun-class system, unique script, plain/aspirated/ejective distinction, ergative-absolutive alignment. Highly adaptable derivation of obscene terms. Let's hear it for tɬ!

Martian - There are technically three Martian language families - the most widely known off of Mars (and to non-Martians) is that of the now-liberated Red Martian underclass.

  • Features: Prenasalized stops; broad/slender (velarized/palatized) consonant distinction; sandhi; ye gods those are some large consonant clusters; phonemic vowel length; perfect direction; beautiful calligraphic script.

Orc - An experiment by sorcerers to enforce hard Sapir-Worf Hypothesis on their soldier-slave legions. Thankfully, hard Sapir-Worf is bullshit, and so in the wake of the overthrow of the Dark Lords, orcs have taken on some very creative strategies to overcome the artificial limitations of their original language. While loan words are often adapted from neighboring languages, more popular by far is making creative compounds out of the existing orcish lexicon.

  • Features: Internally-developed abugida recently adopted; artificially regular grammar and limited vocabulary; measure words; robust neologism formation; frequent loanword adoption; complex system of formal address dismantled and repurposed.

Common - There are four different languages called "the common tongue".

  • Imperial A - The language of the previous empire to rule the region; serves as a shared second language among both those once ruled by Empire A and those on the outside who wished to interact with it. Mildly synthetic, polypersonal agreement, grammatical gender, robust derivation system allows for easy formation of new words. Dialectic diversity will eventually lead to formation of separate languages.
  • Imperial B - The language of the current empire. The standard for politics, magecraft, military matters and sanctioned religions. Not commonly used by the underclasses (save in rebellious territories, where standard practice is total replacement of indigenous languages through imperial schooling). Highly agglutinative, irregular verb morphology, vowel harmony system, a couple leftover laryngeals in the phonology.
  • Free Peoples - A trade language of peoples bordering the empire. Simple phonology with (mostly) strict CV syllable structure, nasal vowel series, and I sure hope you like verbs because we've got some beautiful polysynthesis going on here. Extensive tense-aspect-mood morphology.
  • Friend-Sign - The most widespread and useful of common languages, as it is signable by any being with at least two arms and four fingers (regardless of their mouth and throat structure). A written version later emerged, representing the positions and movements of the most common elements of the signed form, and has since become equally widespread and useful.

Uncommon Languages

Being those that require some manner of magical assistance to speak or comprehend.

Ghoul - Vocal components often described as consisting of "gibbering", "yipping", "howling", "meeping", "keening" and "snuffling". Heavily dependent on scent to carry additional information; humans both lack the ability to detect the meaning-shades imparted by these scent-markers, and are repulsed by the use of rotting flesh, skin oils, urine, and fecal matter as components of grammar. Ghouls' vocal mimicry permits them to speak human languages, but makes communication no less unpleasant to those human participants.

Deep One - The extreme physiological variety between icthropai lineages means that their languages trend towards mutual unintelligibility. Despite this, there are some common elements shared (often in conjunction with each other) among them: ultrasonic whistles and clicks, carapace / mandible / claw scraping, pressure bubbles, modulated electric currents, and color change. Communication between lineages and with humans will need either specially-engineered translator hybrids or direct use of magic.  

Giant - The languages of the giants are heard by humans only as a deep, distant rumbling, as if a train is passing by. Their immense size (and thus, the immense size of their vocal cords) render their speech so deep that most of it exists in the infrasonic, well outside of the human hearing range. Their unique chambered respiratory systems (a necessity in getting sufficient oxygen) permit them to inhale and exhale simultaneously and without ceasing, as if playing the bagpipes.

Dragon - Imagine being able to remember that you once knew the song of the sun, but not able to remember the notes. That is what it is like to be a dragon - to be aware that you are becoming more and more like an animal with each passing season and, unable to stop it, losing that awareness until there is nothing left.

Aboleth (Benthic) - The ordovician masters communicate mind-to-mind, through direct transferal of their trench-deep thought. If an aboleth ever needs to speak to a non-aboleth, it will simply tear the language-knowledge out of the victim's mind, re-assemble it in the necessary order, and play it back in the victim's own voice.

Goblin - Gobbledegoblin is the linguistic form of Calvinball - perpetually in flux and hewing to no rules longer than what's considered entertaining. It's a funhouse mirror of the listener's native language, mocking prescriptivism and propriety with purposefully "incorrect" usage and absurd traits (noun classes based on species of freshwater fish, armpit-fart tone systems, common words get their meanings radically changed, so on and so forth). It is more of a language game than a language itself, which is fitting for goblins.

Lithic - Delicate organs of vibrating crystal; clusters of silicate chimes; wind howling through funnels of sculpted stone. A few of the lithic ambassadors can use these features to imitate human languages; a skilled occultist will be required as an intermediary otherwise. There are theories that these features are either mostly ornamental or engineered specifically for human benefit, and that lithics an home in the upper mantle instead communicate through controlled release of radioactive material.

Imperial Elder - The pentatone musical language used by the Elder Empire is an echo of the flautists of the azothic court of MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and the drumming of great Skarl. Whether it was purposeful imitation, coincidence, or the result of some sensitivity to the Dreamer and its attendants is unknown, and perhaps never known to begin with. The written form (recovered in a vast corpus from the Antarctic capital city) is a direct graphical depiction of Elder mouthparts and the appropriate tones for each note-concept - while incredibly complex to learn and impossible to speak without aid, machine translation has made impressive advances towards translation.  

Imperial Shoggoth Interface Language - A code of chemical signals and truncated musical tones, used to give commands to the amorphous beings. While the hated enslavers are long dead, hard-coded recognition of the Interface Language remains in the mainline descendant clades. The Polyps and Dark Young carved this knowledge out of themselvesmillions of years ago.

Yuggothic - A combination of bioluminescence, mycelium-ferried electro-chemical signals, chitin-clicks, and hyperspatial ripples. Undeciphered; even those who are host to symbiotic strains of the yuggothic mega-organisms are incapable of describing how any of the components correlate to discrete information.

Mi-Go Machine Interface Language
- Undeciphered coding language used in the brain-interfaces of human-compatible Mi-Go hard-tech.

Yithian - We only have knowledge of the scribal shorthand script through the tablets recovered from the Pnakotic ruins, but this has proven enough to serve as a (slow, incomplete) means of deciphering other texts found within the library.


Last are the languages that I didn't get around to writing meaningful blurbs for but wanted to mention for completion's sake: Kobold, Cynocephalic, Akeloi, Drow, Derro, Cetacean, Octopode, Corvid, Ape Sign, Elephantine, Alignment Languages, Class Languages

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Bookpost 11

 Previous installments found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7, 8, 9, 10

Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky

He's done it again, folks! A pitch-perfect sequel, where it builds on both the themes and plot of the first book while expanding the scope AND offering meaningful change to the status quo by the end. That's how you do a fucking sequel. He's building a Star Trek space opera in his own image and I am ride-or-die for it. Unfortunately, being so ride-or-die means that I can't say too much (as you really should read it yourself), but I can say this - over the course of the book, Tchaikovsky manages to play some very standard sci-fi tropes in ways that go well beyond a fresh coat of paint. And the octopi! Not much of a spoiler to say there are octopi in this one, gotta mention the octopi - they are written so well, so simultaneously alien and understandable, empathetic and frustrating, that it has entirely overturned my ideas of how uplift as a concept can and perhaps should work in fiction. It's fucking revolutionary. The man can do a POV from an octopus and present the thought process of an octopus! The brain feels and desires, the arms work automatically to fulfill the directive. I make it sound simple, and it certainly is not.

And as with the first book, Children of Ruin is a very clear declaration that the good ending is possible - not easy, not without incredible difficulty and considerable pain - but it is possible. And that is the kind of meaningful optimism I think we all need in this age.

Something About Eve, James Branch Cabell

DNF 50%

Every Public Domain Day, I scout out the pickings to see what has been freed from the tyranny of Sunny Bono and The House of the Rat. Nothing in particular really caught my eye this year, at least of the lists that I saw circulated, but I remembered an entry in The Dictionary of Imaginary Places of some book featuring a city of wizards and a sphinx with writer's block that that was soon to be liberated from copyright.

Several sessions of flipping through the book later (as I could not remember the city's name, only the image of the sphinx), I was able to track down its source: James Branch Cabell's Something About Eve. Listed in the Dictionary as being published in 1929, I was disappointed to have to wait another two years, and so googled the book for any additional information

Turns out, it was a misprint. It had been published in 1927. Gutenberg had uploaded its ebook version literally the day prior.

So of course I began reading it.

This is a weird goddamn book. It is an immensely frustrating book that shines with brilliance on occasion. it is a very good illustration as to why time has buried Cabell.

Cabell's strain of fantasy is one of near pure farcical allegory, and thus I find that it means nothing. Subtext is and remains a tool for cowards, but Cabell seems to loathe the idea of writing about a place and time with any substance. He has made something less substantial than a dreamscape, for a dream will be content to leave some beautiful images simply because they are beautiful: Cabell sees no value in anything that does not feed back into the Point he is trying to make. He repeats the same subjects again and again. He barely describes things of importance and rambles on about shit that doesn't matter. He will use words that I have never seen before, are never explained, and when I try to google them I end up with a results page of another one of his books - which contains the word only twice, one time being the title! (The word is "Dirghic", used in reference to a mythology - I presume it is some fantastic culture, the one reference I could find that was any help described it as "pre-Ciceronean Latin" so maybe it's fantasy Etruscan?) Some of the wit has remained sharp (if quite groan-inducing), and quite a bit I can't discern if it's even supposed to be a joke.

And what is the point? "Men like chasing the idealized women they construct in their heads and that's pretty silly." It's not even a bad point! That is, indeed, a good point! There's also something in there about spirituality vs materialism but like with the first point it is so ham-fisted and inelegant that it is rendered farcical of itself.

I had wanted to pull some interesting inspirational fuel from it, but the many fantastic lands and mystic portents mean nothing, on the whole, and thus lacking substance I come up empty. What a waste.

Monster vol 1 (Viz Signature Edition), Naoki Urasawa

Monster opens with one of the best ways to make an engaging narrative - have a character with strongly-held ideals get thrown into a situation that directly challenges them. The story is just picking up speed by the point I am at, but it has remained very tense, very tightly plotted, and kept me extremely engaged. Will definitely be continuing. You can tell it's good because the review is very short.

Uzumaki, Junji Ito

I read it months ago and forgot to put it in the prior posts.

Book good. There are many good reasons it is famous - the art, the grotesquery, the pace that starts slow and dreadful and keeps picking up momentum that you can't escape from. You're already in. Cosmic horror gets bandied about a lot nowadays, mostly for stuff that doesn't deserve it. Uzumaki depicts an encounter with the impossible and unnamed, of a power that has no point we can discern. No history, no backstory. Just itself. Just its own existence.

Also it's got that very Shinto thing of "hey this natural feature that has been polluted is now a nexus for Bad Shit" and I am always a fan of that.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

DNF pg 105 / 246 (plus 148 pages of notes and bibliography)

"Ogi Ogas recieved his PhD in computational neuroscience..."

"Sai Gaddamn conducted his doctoral research...on biologically-inspired models of machine learning."

And both of them are excellent supporting arguments for the importance of shoving nerds into lockers at every single opportunity. And / or mandating thorough education in the humanities for everyone.

This book is a fucking wreck. Sloppily collected data, absolute lack of actual science going on, terrible contradictory writing, lots of baseless hypotheses put forth to support some truly wretched essentialist conclusions. Absolutely no space whatsoever given to the social, political, religious, or cultural influences on sex and sexuality. Everything must be biological, but please note how neither of these jackanapes are biologists. Or sociologists. Or psychologists. They have no idea how to talk about people, and thus end up treating people like machines. They presume their data is accurate to reality when they are working with anonymized search engine data and then extrapolating from there on extremely shaky grounds.

And, I will reiterate, they entirely ignore social factors. They cite the Hatfield and Clark research paper where there is an enormous - we're talking like 50% point difference (which, granted, means jack shit because there were only nine participants) between willingness to accept invitations to sex from a stranger. Ogas and Gaddam are convinced, utterly convinced, that the only possible explanation is that men and women must have some innate biological function determining the way they feel desire. And no other factors could possibly apply.

There couldn't possibly be the influence of systematic sexism at play here. Humans are perfectly rational meat machines, right?

(Occam called, he'd like his fucking razor back, because you aren't certainly using it.)

Their conclusions are caricatures, divorced from lived experience or any humanity at all. "Men are like X, women are like Y, and we take it at face value that the porn people search for is a direct representation of how they interact with other people". Major demographics entirely disregarded (Lesbians? fugettabooudem Bi folks? Under the bus. Ace spectrum and demi friendos? Enjoy your new superpower of utter invisibility. Straight dudes who don't like watching hardcore or het women who don't like the dynamics of romance novels? Might as well ask to see Martian bigfoot!)

I know it was 2011 but their choice to quote Louis CK and Joe Rogan is... mildly telling.

Also these dumbasses unironically use the word "alpha" and that was the real breaking point.

Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay

Reversing the trend of the previous public domain allegorical fantasy, this one is good. It is very much an allegory of the sort-of-gnostic variety, not a narrative, don't expect cause and effect to work as if these are real people.

The book is, in many ways, incomprehensible - but I say that with affection. It is very clearly the work of a man trying to sort out some very Big Ideas of great personal importance, and wonky as it may be I find expressions such as that to be the goal of art. There are moments of episodic profundity or striking image - Lindsay works very well with colors (and not just the famous jale, ulfire, and dolm) and landscapes (well, until the last quarter, which is mostly mountains) and alien life, often in greater vividness than modern sci-fi authors. He had images in his head and needed to share them, and on the whole I think he did very well. The Big Ideas are shared less clearly, but I applaud the attempt. It's art that's fucking weird in ways that don't give a shit about what anyone else thinks, and I'll drink to that.

And for a book from 1920, I find that, while it's got a non-zero amount of old-timey sexism involved, it's less than it could have been, and he gets some bonus points by the inclusion of a character who is not only neither male nor female, but gets neopronouns - ae/aer - In 1920! (He does say that he uses them because no language on earth had the proper form of address, which is hilariously incorrect, but I'll forgive him for not knowing. He was a Scotsman in the early 20th C, we'll grade him on a curve). There's also a point where he mentions that a character's racial prejudices prevented him from seeing something clearly, which is also appreciated. Does help that this is an allegory set on a magical planet far away, difficult to be racist when the entire population of the planet is under 20 people.

Two things entertain me greatly: the use of specific, but entirely inappropriate intervals of time (two minutes is a long time!) and Maskull just saying "Thanks!" instead of the "Thank you" I would expect.

But yeah. I think Lindsay would be a fascinating author to talk shop with over lunch.

Etidorhpa, by John Uri Lloyd

DNF 15%

This book features FOUR PREFACES, followed by a prologue establishing the frame narrative (That the 'author' is one Johannes Llewellyn Llongollyn Drury who entrusted the publication of the account to J.U.L.) Llewellyn meets a strange man who appears out of nowhere, there's a bet or something, strange man disappears for a year, Llewellyn goes to a doctor who spends pages reading excerpts from other books at him all to say "get some exercise". Old Man returns again to say "hey I will now tell you a weird story of my life", and we go into the now THIRD layer of frame narrative, only to get interrupted again as the Old Man recounts a letter he received and we achieve FOUR LEVELS of rambling, senseless, directionless, and utterly dull frame narrative. Lloyd has managed to make a secret brotherhood of alchemists boring.

Leave it to the Victorians to drain any possible excitement out of a story. There's a weird hollow earth story in here somewhere, supposedly, but at 15% of the book I have seen nothing of the sort. Would be a hell of a challenge for editing practice, though.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Some Thoughts About 60 Years in Space


Buckle up folks, we've got a wild ride ahead of us. 

Off Into the Dark Wild Yonder

60 Years in Space is a game prescision-crafted to pander to me, while simultaneously triggering incredible frustration at every opportunity. Here is your white whale, but it is unfortunately dead on arrival.

What is it, you ask? A tabletop adaptation of the notoriously complex board game High Frontier, written by Andrew Doull. It consists of five books at ten bucks a pop:

  • 60 Years in Space (Core Rules)
  • This Space Intentionally (How to actually play the game. Missions and travel)
  • A Facility with Words (Additional travel & combat rules, ecosystem & Species Designer)
  • All Errors My Own (Trends in society and technology)
  • A Lot of Zeroes (The far future - intersolar missions, planet generation, aliens)

As a work of science fiction and as a source of inspiration, I have many, many good things to say about it. We'll get to those (much) later (like in a different post later), as there is a more pressing matter at hand.

As a tabletop game, it is unfit for purpose. And that's a rough thing to say about something that was a one-man, eight-year project, but despite the fact that I do legitimately love the core idea of this game and many of its components, I can't be handing out passes on what Could Have Been.  

To whit:

  • The text arrangement on the cover is...a choice.
  • There are no pages devoted to rules summaries or procedures of play in the core book - not a flow chart or bullet list to be found. Directions are located scattershot through the text, and they are often very confusingly worded as to why you are rolling, or on what, or what systems are in play.
  • Mission outlines are not included in the core book.
  • Key terms are neither bolded nor italicized.
  • Reference tables are not numbered.
  • Headings and subheadings are not numbered.
  • Directions are confusingly worded.
  • References to other concepts or mechanics will nearly always be made without page reference. Some of these concepts or mechanics will be either actually missing, or so difficult to find that it doesn't matter.
  • The index has internal hyperlinks (Good!) There is no way to tell that this is the case unless you mouse over the table and pay attention to your cursor (Not good!)
  • The core rules do not contain an itemized procedure of play.

While I admit it is not particularly fair to drag a one-man team for an eight year project, these are basic issues here and should not have been an issue even for a one-man formatting job. Not to mention that, if we bop on over to Atomic Rockets and dig around we can find a link to a google doc of the 3rd edition High Frontier rules, compiled by the board game's creator Phil Eklund, which avoids most of these errors and is overall a much better reading experience for it despite the fact that I am missing half the context.

Enough of that. Let's walk through making a crew. The steps here are my doing, the book does not specifically enumerate them.

Step 1: Roll for Space Politics

Space Politics is not your team's politics, but the overall mileau of space at the start of the game. In what is going to become a recurring theme, the table has multiple columns but does not indicate if these columns are meant to be rolled individually, or if the table is supposed to be read across with each row as a single entry. I get 'Red - Authoritarian'; "The space race has effectively been won through military, political or technological superiority - usually through force of arms - and the victor is able to control which colonists are permitted into space."

There is a column for card suits, which is for "randomly generating outlooks" - there is no page number or link to outlooks, explanation for what they are, and a whole lot of white space. I err on the side of caution and read the table in rows, so our suit is Clubs.

Step 2: Mission Control

In which we skip over Chapter 3 (Eras) right top Chapter 4 (Mission control), and find ourselves in the first bad omen. Chapter 3 is all background material - important stuff, mind - common technologies, attitudes, things to remember - for each of the major eras...but those major eras are not numbered. They're named - Baseline, Upported, Colonization, Exoglobalization, Futures, Breakthroughs - but they don't have numbers and they don't include the starting years in the header (ex. Upported starts in 2040, but that's in the body description or at the chart at the end of the chapter.)

Interesting stuff, we will return here, there's good material here especially for Mothership. But it is also in the way of making our crew and that makes me a grumpalumpagus.

Okay, mission control. We get a nice table labeled "Second Wave Mission Control Social Units", where we roll for our what sort of organization will be running our mission. Once again, there is no indication if the table is meant to be read in rows, or each column rolled individually. As with Step 1, I am reading it as rows. There's no roll here,as the recommendation is that we are playing as a National Space Agency, which is politics White (Nationalistic / Conservative), has Spacecraft quality Medium, crew quality High (they have experience in LEO and their crew module is spun at 0.6 G), their Contract Age (not explained here) is 36+3d6 (I get 44), and the mission is science.

Alas, my Green ancoms in space will have to wait for another day.

Now some notes - the explanations for aspects of the Mission Control Social Unit are not provided in the order of the table (giving us Crew Quality first and then Color), and they cut up information that should be put together (ie, there is an elaboration of what colors mean outside of the section with the color heading). Also the important mechanical aspect of having a high-quality crew ("the crew will not suffer Microgravity risks until the crew module is damaged.") is not located in the section headed High Quality Crew. If you are navigating this by headers - an absolute necessity with something this dense - you are fucked. Doomed to miss useful information.

Our White social unit color gives us...

  • "White BSUs are religious, nationalistic or family focused organizations"
  • "social units are nationalistic, conservative and family oriented and rely on limiting personal freedoms because of their moral beliefs but also in rewarding hard work and limiting the role of the state."

Oh joy. Positively frabjous day. With luck our re-entry capsule will disintegrate.

There is a secondary table for the type of National Space Agency you are, and I get Privatized.

"The national space program has been privatised but still has an implicit government guarantee and monopoly on space travel.
I feel like a mutiny is in order.

I should also mention that the headers for the different types of Mission Control Units are not numbered, and don't contain the color associated with them (if, indeed, there is a specific color associated with each and we weren't supposed to roll for each column)

Skipping the subtables for the other MC types, we move on to Launch Site. There are no tables to determine what country we are, or what non-country we are, or anything else about our organization other than that we are a privatized National Space Agency.

The Launch Site header is located below the table that it is connected to. I end up rolling the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which means my launch corridor is not only complete bullshit and...hrm. Yeah I do not like my options for nationalistic/conservative factions operating out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Next up is Crew Module Design, which splits the tables of Major and Minor Spaceports, despite the Major table having a result that says "roll on the minor table" and the minor spaceports table is absolutely able to fit on the same page as the major table.

Also the Crew Module Design table is not on the same page as the heading.

I roll up...I don't know. It has a Mass of 1 (which is 40 tons of payload), Rad-Hardness of 4, Thruster of 6 * 8 AB 2 (I don't know if that asterisk is mean as a multiplier or a placeholder, the explanation says "thrust * fuel consumption need to enter each burn, with the AB indicating the thruster can afterburn an additional two steps of fuel to increase the thrust by 1." It's also got ISRU 4, which is In-Situ resource utilization, which measures water gathering and resource scouting for building the factories that I keep hearing about but seeing nothing.

There's also a column labeled 'platform', which is additional functions of the module. I get Missile and Raygun. Neither are explained here beyond handwaving at combat applications, and I am referred to the This Space Intentionally supplement (no page number given) or the rules for the High Frontier board game.

Step 3: Other Starting Factions

Now's when it starts getting confusing. To generate other factions, we roll 1d6 for each color not our own, and if the number is equal to era number + 1, so we need to roll a one or a two. I think. I am honestly entirely unsure, because the next heading is "First Wave Crews".

We are, according to the table way up at the beginning of Step 2, a second wave crew. But waves haven't been mentioned before this and what does that mean for era? Are we Baseline, or are we Upported? Back in the Eras chapter it says that Upported contains the tech we need to start playing the game, but if that's the case why is Baseline even mentioned as a starter here, and does that mean that the waves are equivalent to eras? Does this mean that we start at Era 2?

Well, I rolled for Era 1, because you start counting at one. And the only faction I got was Green, who I guess we are on very poor terms due to the space politics roll. Let's jump ahead to page 317 (it's actually page 319) to look at the faction designer.

The faction designer is a thing I don't like.

So. There are three types of factions. Crews of other ships, factions that want to set up colonies, and social factions for everything else. All three get their own waves, which are not bulleted, and they all use different waves. Apparently you can get third-wave crew factions by emailing the author.

There are only 5 major factions allowed total, and only one per color. Makes sense, it's a crowded game. Everyone else is minor, they build infrastructure but don't have their own dedicated map markers (i think?)

Factions have Origin Stories, Doctrines, Ranks (we haven't even touched on ranks yet so I have no idea how this applies to anything else), an org chart, upgrades (found in an entirely different chapter, but at least it has a page number), encounters, faction missions...and one sample.

Yeah you're making up all that save the type of doctrines they faction has (and even then it says that they'll usually have custom versions), generic rank benefits, and a generic Color-based org chart. There's a list of potential colonist factions in the appendix, which is better than nothing, but it is not mentioned in the Faction Designer. You are on your own.

There's some crunch about colony factions but at this point I am irritated enough that I am ignoring them. We're still making characters, remember?

Step (Checks Notes) 4: Crew Demographics

The fluff for the crew comes before the mechanics. Fair enough.

First heading is "Mission Control Nationalities",and is followed by this paragraph:

"When determining crew demographics, some mission controls will restrict the possible nations that a crew member can come from. If this is the case, roll 2D6 for each crew member. If this number is less than or equal to the Nationality Mix Number for the Mission Control, then roll for the crew’s nationality normally; if it is greater the crew member will have the same nationality as the nationality of the Mission Control. Factions without a Nationality Mix Number use 2 if the faction is Red, 3 if White, 4 if Green, 5 if Purple and 6 if Orange."

But here's the thing. That Nationality Mix Number doesn't exist. It pings three time in the 352-page pdf, and all three of them are in this paragraph. If my faction is White, does this mean my number is 3? Or does it change because I have a National Space Agency? Is the crew nationality table where I actually choose what National Space Agency I am working with? or was that listed elsewhere? Shouldn't the launch site be determined after I figure out which country is involved? Cause it would be really weird to end up as Venezuela and be launching out of Baikonur which is objectively worse than French Guiana let alone halfway around the globe.

I didn't end up as Venezuela, because this is the part where I quit. There are tables for ethnicity, language, pronouns, callsigns, and while on their own they might be worth playing with in the future, for the right now I am stuck with hundreds of pages of directions that don't make sense, mechanics that either don't exist or are very well hidden, and no remaining patience.

Actually you know what, I will roll up a crewmember severed from the rest, just to show you what you can get. Next table is nationality.

"Roll 1D6 twice; except roll 2 is 2D6 on roll 1 result of 5. If roll 1 is a 6, roll 1D6. Use a result of 3-6 as roll 1 on the Colonist Nationalities table on the following page. Otherwise roll 3D6 on this table."

I rolled boxcars and I cannot parse this sentence.

(Deep reading has lead me to this: roll 1d6; if result is 1-4, roll 1d6. If roll is 5, roll 2d6. If roll 1 is 6, roll 1d6, and if that roll is 1-2, roll 3d6; if it is 3-6, use that result as Roll 1 on the colonist nationality table.

(Nested tables, gods above and below)

So Roll 1 is 6, then roll 2 is 6, which means that I go over to the colonist table, go down to 6, and then roll 2d6 to get my actual nationality. 6 + 3 = 9 so my crew member is from Iran.

Sweet baby Ganesha on his cute little rat

I go to the Ethnicity and Language table, roll 2d6 on the Iran listing. Get a 5, so I am Azeri (Azerbajani) and I speak...I don't know, what is this notation?

Ethnic language >= 2. Persian <= 3.

I rolled a 4, so... I think I speak Azerbaijani? Do these ranges overlap? Is it "greater than or equal to 2 and less than or equal to 3",  or the reverse?

Gender table I roll an 8, which is Female. Public pronouns apparently change with every Era influenced by space politics, and if this is indeed Era 2, I suppose I should roll. 1d6 minus 1 for Red,and I get a one, so now zero, and...

"I/Me/My/Mine/Myself, You/You/Your/Your/Yourself and We/Us/Our/Ours/Ourselves merge the first and third person so they are no longer distinguished, suggesting a partial or complete erasure of individual accountability, replace by collective responsibility and identity."

While this, grammatically and socially, sounds like an absolute nightmare, it is our first example of something I actually do like in this book, which is that when interesting cultural things crop up, they tend to be very interesting indeed. This is the public pronoun table, not the personal one, remember.

Though I still find it awkward how all of these are based on English when there are so many languages (including this obscure one called Mandarin Chinese) that get by with something much simpler. I guess it's justified by everyone speaking English as well as their normal language? Or they're more just examples to indicate attidues. I like that option best.

(The gender table is more of a sex table on the whole, but it has a solid selection of options including transhuman ones for later eras. Though the explanations of the results are neither in the order of the table nor in alphabetical order.)

My callsign is Rotor Excellence - PCs only get callsigns (because name tables for all those background options would be extremely cumbersome. I think this is a good move.)


Final Thoughts

I'm calling it here, because I ain't making three more of these chuckleheads. I did make an interesting character and the hints at the setting have the imagination running, so it certainly succeeds in that respect. There's a solid section on safety tools at the beginning of each book.  It's all the surroundings that's choking out the brilliance that is here.

There's skills and there's assets and upgrades and risks and infrastructure and travel and other stuff, four entire books that I haven't touched on, but I'm not going to review that. I will certainly write more posts about it, but the review is over, for one reason more egregious than this

There is no rules summary nor procedure of play section in the core book. Indeed, if you want to get an idea of how to actually play the game, you need to piece together a bunch of disparate fragments found across multiple books and that is fucking unreasonable. I am not psychic. I am not immortal. I am not 17 with unlimited time and low standards. If one is writing a game, and the game is intended to be played, it must be written reader-first. Especially when dealing with complex information. Especially when trying to teach complex information. I want to play the game: Let me play the game.

I brought this up in the itch page discussions, and it wasn't productive. I was told that the game both "assumes you have bought and played the board game" and "It is entirely standalone", and that the basic information necessary for play is not even contained in the core rules (it's all in This Space Intentionally, a fact that is exhausting. There is indeed a numerical list of steps to take, and it is not in the core rules), but the fact that the author of the game can pull an entire 180 in the space of two posts wrt the necessity of outside reference material has, if nothing else, confirmed that "standalone" no longer means anything.


There is, I swear, a whole lot of good in 60 Years in Space - it's just that none of it is actually the game. The flavor, especially in All Errors My Own and A Lot of Zeroes is fan-fucking-tastic. And I say that with total sincerity, it's some of the best sci-fi idea work I've seen in RPGs. Steal it for Mothership or Solarcrawl or something else. Or just read it, it's a good time.

But as a game? As a system of rules intended to be read and learned and taught and used at a table to play a game of imagination?

Unfit for purpose. Needs an editor with a keen eye, a red pen, and a hacksaw - at minimum.

Next post I write about it will be positives, because I ain't letting these random tables go to waste. Paid 50 bucks for these books and honestly despite the disaster of the game's presentation.

And it doesn't even have the benefit of Creative Commons.