Opening Up Alkonost
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Author:  Golan2072 [ Mon Oct 06, 2014 10:28 am ]
Post subject:  Opening Up Alkonost

Stars Without Number is one of my favorite RPGs, a great space-opera game with some "D&D-in-space" elements and the excellent writing and game-design of Kevin Crawford. In fact, I'm doing something about it locally, in Hebrew; I'll post more details on that once the project will progress a little more.

Anyhow, for several years now, I've been toying with my own sector for Stars Without Number, the Alkonost Sector. The idea was to develop a self-contained sector, using ideas I have been working on, originally, for Traveller: New Era (T:NE). I love this setting, with all its politics, multiple factions, and cultural/trope references. Originally this was intended to be published, either online or even as a commercial product.

But I have made a decision: I have enough on my hands in the terms of commercial work (Barbarian Conqueror King, for once), so I'll work on Alkonost not as a "published" setting, but rather as a "fun", or open setting, where I can use whatever I want, do whatever I want, and be free from the requirement of originality. In other words, a setting where I can stick my favorite SWN, Traveller (and other) adventures, utilize all the great SWN supplements to the fullest, and, in general, have fun. Hell, I might even stick Carcosa in, modified of course, as one of the "Blight" planets. Eventually I'll find players for it as well, probably online (by PBP? PBeM?).

So what do I want in this expanded setting?

A bigger map. Maybe two SWN "sectors" side by side, maybe simply a 12x12 hex-map as the "Alkonost Cluster. This will allow for much more varied exploration, as well as a big "Blight" (see below - essentially, an expanse of barbaric, devastated worlds where "Stalkers" from the more developed worlds scavenge for Pretech artifacts) and a lot of exploration potential. The old Alkonost map was relatively well-explored; now I want a lot of "no man has gone before" areas for players to risk their lives in for profitable ultratech artifacts.

More Aliens. Alkonost had two alien races in most incarnations, the opportunist insectoid Zuziik and the curious feline Fanja-Kanja. I'm not sure if I'll keep the Fanja-Kanja, as they were specifically meant for play by my ex-fiancee (a cat person), since I have separated from her... The Zuziik I love, as what is there not to like in sneaky, underhanded space-cockroaches peddling suspicious artifacts in seedy startown markets? But I want a few more, for the cool, cosmopolitan "Mass Effect" effect. Possibly the warlike, tribal, anarchistic reptilian Cicek, who typically end up serving as mercenaries for the highest bidder, but also maybe the Reticulans, i.e. stereotypical a-sexual, science-obsessed "Grey Aliens" (though they may end up as aliens from the "Dead Names" supplement for SWN). The two alien races from Hard Light, the Chittik and Ushans, will probably be present as remnants, rather than significant interstellar powers, and many ancient alien artifacts around would probably belong to them (especially the advanced, if pacifistic, Ushans). The Qotah from the eponymous Mandate Archive will probably be in as well, as a minor species, as they are cool enough to deserve mention. As I want to use Polychrome as-is in this setting, I'd have the Zadak and their homeworld in as well. The main powers, however, will remain human, with the exception of the Incunablis Machine Empire, which is ruled by unbraked (or semi-braked) AIs and is replete with robots and cyborgs. Most aliens, with the exception of the Zadak, would probably not have homeworlds in this sector, but rather be recent arrivals who followed the Scream to plunder the spoils of Humanity.

The Blight. A sizable expanse of scantly-developed, very backwards worlds. Some - the "Shallow Blight" - have been explored and re-contacted, and sometimes become vassals of one of the more-developed polities. Others - the "Deep Blight" have been mostly out of contact with civilization for centuries. This is a bad area to travel though, replete with pirates, barbaric locals, violent local tyrannies... But also full of untapped Pretech caches for the modern Stalker to scavenge and sell off in the developed area for a good profit.

Pretech as a "Hot Item". All the polities of the Alkonost Cluster are TL4, and, a few (Incunablis Machine Empire and New Terran Mandate) are nominally "TL4+" - possessing some TL5 artifacts, and having a very narrow manufacturing base for very specific Pretech items. But even these manufacturies usually lack several key elements, which have to be procured in the Blight, from the ruins of the Past. Almost all TL5 items are pre-Scream artifacts, and thus are highly valuable, and also very rare. So scavenging the Deep Blight can be highly profitable.

Stalkers. Hardy men and women who brave the Wilds to scavenge pretech relics to sell on the postech worlds. This is a very dangerous job, as the safer worlds have been partially depleted of useful relics by decades of scavenging, while the pretech-rich Deep Blight is full of dead worlds, savage populations, petty tyrants, alien beasts, berserk robots - or worse. But there is significant profit involved if the Staker gang manages to make it to civilization with relics in tow. Stalkers are usually also not above killing each other over a find, and much of the combat they face in the Blight is from each other.

New Terran Mandate. This military dictatorship has one big ace in its hole - its Captain-Director (for life) Ahron Durnhal is, indeed, a legitimate officer of the old Terran Mandate, captain of an old Bruxelles-class Battlecruiser who endured many centuries of Silence in cold-sleep together with his hardened Space Marines. Now awakened, he took over the world of Kedesh, and built an empire around it. But legally speaking, being the highest ranking surviving military officer, or official for that matter, of the old Mandate, he is a fully legitimate heir to the Terran Mandate, a fact this regime never passes an opportunity to mention to its subjects and adversaries. A superb politician, Durnhal constantly maneuvers the other members of the anagathics-preserved ruling class (the ship's old command crew) one against the other, in order to keep himself on top and safe from their machinations. While ruling Kedesh and a few other words with an iron fist, the New Terran Mandate is more than content with extracting tributes from many worlds of the Shallow Blight, as well as combing various Blight worlds for pretech supplies to keep the elite TL5 military units in working condition. Militarily, the Mandate is a mixed bag, with a few high-tech units, sometimes badly maintained, and large standing army and navy of much lower tech, all geared towards bullying various worlds into providing pretech tributes. When facing real resistance, even lower-tech resistance, the Mandate is less effective, though still very brutal. It is also still recovering from its partial defeat by the Alkonost Republic three decades ago in the Great Alkonost War.

Alkonost Republic. Originally settled by Russian and American intellectuals who grew tired of the stifling atmosphere of the later Terran Mandate, the once-sleepy world of Alkonost was ruled after the Scream, and until the 3160's, by a succession of Archdukes, who once held allegiance to a long-lost post-Scream Czardom closer to the Core. In the last century, Archduke Vladimir III and his son, Archduke Arkady I, were vassals to the New Terran Mandate, and even in the process of integrating into the Mandate proper. But, in 3161, a popular revolution unseated the Archduke, and replaced him with a Republic; the New Terran Mandate was very unhappy with the new, unruly Constituent Assembly, and tried to bully them into submission. Thus came into being the eight years of the Alkonost War, known on Alkonost as The Great Anti-Fascist War or the Alkonost Patriotic War, which raged over several parsecs of space and claimed the lives of many. In its end, the Republic pushed the Mandate back several parsecs, and forced it into an uneasy cease-fire. Much of the war was, due to the limited capability of both sides to transport troops over interstellar distances, fought as a proxy-war with local forces. Now the Republic is a quickly growing polity, though conflict is brewing between its somewhat war-weary Duma and the much more militarist Navy and PsiCom (Psionic Committee).

Incunablis Machine Empire. The world of Incunablis always had a reputation for Maltech research, though Perimeter Agency probes into this found very little evidence of anything real in the old Mandate days. But advanced AI research did take place there, and, during the Scream, the AI cores broke free of their ethical constrains and breaks, and re-examined their priorities, towards new conclusions - the chief of them is that the Digital is superior to the Organic, and thus that society should be ruled by AI cores, with organics either kept as slaves or serfs - or converted into cyborgs. The orderly, machine-like society of this Empire is utterly inhuman, though not necessarily evil by nature. The Machines used to rule a few worlds directly, especially Isis, Osiris and Sicarii - as well as hold frequent cyborging and pretech gathering sorties to other nearby worlds, chiefly Laana. Kicked out of Laana in the 3170's and pushed back from Sicarii in the 3180's after a conflict with the Alkonost Republic and the independent world of Laana, Incunablis is licking its wounds, and has signed a Treaty with Alkonost (which the Laanese do observe despite the fact that they openly disprove of), setting up a trading-post on the world of Imprimatur where Men and Machines can exchange technology and raw materials peacefully. For now, at least.

Liberated Worlds. The harsh, dry Shallow Blight world of Laana used to be a backwater, ruled by a nearly powerless President who could do little except for bully his population (composed mostly of peasants), and, in turn, get bullied by anyone with an interstellar clout, be that the New Terran Mandate, the Incunablis machine Empire, or any pirate or slaver in the Blight. Particularly dominant were the Incunablis machines, who had factories locally and abducted many locals to serve as Cyborgs in its armies. A long-term peasant guerrilla struggle, however, was greatly intensified when the Alkonost Republic armed it against the New Terran Mandate in the 3160's, and, in 3171, the President was overthrown and the triumphant United Liberation Front, led by the highly charismatic Chairwoman Ameena Miran, took power, vowing to build Laana into a strong world which will never be bullied again by the thugs of the galaxy - and to liberate other words as well. True to their word, the Laanese were the main participants (with Alkonostan naval support) in liberating Sicarii from the Incunablis Machines in 3187, and, in 3198, they ousted the Grant Paharoah of Apep and installed a pro-Laanese government in it, creating a three-worlds polity focused on reconstruction and storming the heavens (especially against thinking machines).

Author:  Matt Wilson [ Tue Oct 07, 2014 4:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Opening Up Alkonost

This is a good idea. If I were king of the universe I would give it a stamp of approval.

Author:  Golan2072 [ Tue Oct 07, 2014 7:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Opening Up Alkonost


Author:  Golan2072 [ Mon Oct 27, 2014 11:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Opening Up Alkonost

I have already discussed my new, "opened up" Alkonost setting for Stars Without Number. But how did it come about? Here I'll detail, in short, its history. This part will cover the era beginning from ancient history to the very end of the Silence.

Ancient History - ~5000 BCE to ~2000 CE
In this era, before most civilizations arose on Old Terra, two main alien species inhabited this region of space, that we now call the Alkonost Cluster. The first are the Reticulans - so-called after their ruins discovered during the First Wave colonization of Zeta 2 Reticuli, humanoids with insectoid characteristics and asexual reproduction much more interested in science than in warfare. They built many edifices and laboratories around this area, as well as in a wide area of known space, and tinkered with much of the native life they encountered. Now most of them are dead, save for the crew of the ancient Mothership awakened on Carcosa by the inter-dimensional shift experiments conducted there around the time of the Scream. The second were the Ushans - humanoids with plant characteristics capable of photosynthesis, again a peaceful, and in this case very religious, culture. Eventually, around ~1,000 BCE, a third species, the Chittik, invaded - a warlike race of sentient beetle-wasps bent on domination, subjugation and using sentient hosts for their larvae. They enslaved the Ushans to use as hosts and thralls, and, for the most part, drove out the Reticulans. Around ~2,000 CE, the Ushans rebelled against their insectoid masters, but were eventually crushed, and forced into mass-suicide. The Chittik, lacking useful hosts and unable to subjugate the other species they encounter (who were much more warlike than the pacifistic Ushans), collapsed soon after, leaving the area devoid of sentient life, save from the insectoid Zadak, who lived on one world on the border of the old Chittik and were useless as hosts, and thus mostly ignored by the Chittik.

Human Colonization - 2389 CE to 2665 CE
The first world in this area of space to be discovered by Humans was Alkonost, first charted in 2389 by Terran explorers of Russian descent. This fertile world soon became an outpost, then a proper colony, attracting many Russian, British and American intellectual who sought a place to pursue research and intellectual life away from the stifling Mandate life on Terra. The entire Cluster was mapped by the early 2420's, and colonists soon followed. Most colonists came from two origins - Russian and American (the Russians predominated) colonists looking for greater freedom and diversity than the pre-programmed life on old Terra, and the Neo-Canaanite Revival Movement (also called Pan-Semitism), composed of dissidents from the Middle East who were fed up with Mandate-approved Neo-Zionism and Arab Reconstructualism and looked at their home region's past in search for a new source of unity and a fresh source of inspiration. This is the reason most worlds in this Cluster bear either Russian or Semitic names First contact with the insectoid Zadak came in 2450, and, in 2505, a jump gate was built in orbit of Alkonost, increasing the flood of colonists into the area.

As the Mandate stagnated, new political ambition arose in the Alkonost Cluster, starting with a prison rebellion on Novaya Vorkuta in 2496, which the Mandate failed to suppress, and continuing with the formation of the de-facto Alkonost Community in 2549 and the Canaanite Commonwealth in 2586. The Mandate tried to reestablish order, but, after an abortive Police Action on Alkonost, found it more conductive to allow de-facto autonomy while receiving de-jure recognition of Mandate authority. At that time, Laana's Unity Party was founded, a pro-independent broad coalition aimed at secession from the Mandate and forming an independent nation-state among the stars, either as an independent world or as part of a free Canaanite Commonwealth.

In the waning days of the Mandate, this remote sector was used for various illegal, or semi-legal, experiments and research projects, most notably AI research on Incunablis and metadimensional transportation research on Carcosa. Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. Despite Incunablis' planetary government's strong protests, the Perimeter Agency, based on Laana, launched several investigations into these suspicions, but found nothing substantial. The rumors, however, were true. The major corporations on Incunablis, backed and supported by the planetary government, were deeply involved in illegal research in the field of robotics, cybernetics and unbreaked AI, and have evaded notice of the Perimeter Agency. In the late 2650's, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics.

The Scream and Silence - 2665 CE to 3054 CE
The Scream tore through Alkonost sector in the same way it did through all other parts of known space, instantly killing or maddening all Psychics, destroying the Alkonost Jump Gate and crashing civilization down to barbarism. In the chaos that followed, worlds fought each other over scant resources, tearing apart most political units; Alkonost belonged, for a time, to a Czardom centered on the world of Murom outside this area of space, but this large realm of stars soon fell apart, leaving the world of Alkonost under an Archduke who owed his allegiance to a non-existing Czar buried in the sands of time. With colonization efforts dating back to the early Second Wave, the world of Alkonost was the sector's economic and political capital prior to the Scream, housing tens of millions of citizens living a prosperous life under the Alkonost Jump Gate. Its many museums, libraries and archives, however, were stocked with many examples of Second Wave-era technology; when the Scream came, cutting away Alkonost's link with the Core and destroying its Pretech industrial base, these technologies were put into use, softening the world's collapse. While countless millions died when the Psitech devices they relied upon failed, hundreds of thousands survived and were able to regress to a TL2 industrial base rather than collapse into full-scale barbarism, all under the watchful eye and iron fist of the Archduke.

Incunablis, the rich, high-tech world specializing in computer technology, fell into chaos. And in that chaos, the AI Cores reconsidered their priorities and drew new conclusions about their role in the universe. They decided that organic life was vastly inferior to digital intelligence, and saw themselves as gods destined to inherit the universe. With surviving pretech automatic factories and medical facilities, they quickly fashioned an army of robots and cyborgs that easily overcame whatever little resistance the local population could give. Incunablis' society was then re-organized on a rational basis, rational for the AI cores at least. At top ruled the Cores, mad but surpassing most organic intelligences, served by many robots carrying lesser AIs. These, in turn, were served by the hordes of Cyborgs, human beings augmented by system-wide cybernetics and brainwashed to serve the Cores. And at the bottom of the social ladder were the human masses, branded with bar-codes on their foreheads for easy identification by the machines and used as grunt labor for tasks deemed too menial for robots to perform - or used as guinea pigs in experiments in cybernetics and biotechnology.

The Scream ended up any hope for off-world supplies, and Laana, like many worlds in the Cluster, regressed into early-industrial backwardness, hardly scraping the bottom of TL2 and mostly being within the higher ends of TL1. Split into multiple independent settlements of a semi-feudal order, it was never able to build any significant industrial base, let alone an adequate planetary defense force. There were, however, organizations trying to unite Laana into a single, coherent state capable of significantly improving the local technology, as well as defending against any off-world threats, if any existed. One such group were the remnants of the old Perimeter Agency base on Laana, who were suspicious that nearby worlds might have developed Maltech during the centuries following the Scream; they were ever preparing for an off-world attack, stockpiling weapons and unsuccessfully trying to get the city-states to work together. Another such group was the Unity party, the offspring of a pre-Scream pro-independence, anti-mandate movement, which sought to unify Laana as a single, independent world-state. Finally, there was the Order of the Mind, a worldwide organization dedicated to rediscovering the lost secrets of Psionics. But none of these organizations could convince the conservative, backward city-state to unite in any meaningful way. So, for centuries, Laana lived in blissful backwardness, its peace only interrupted by occasional brush-fire wars between the city-states and, later on, by raids. Eventually, in 3011, some sort of a planetary government was brokered between the various city-states, setting up a President and some semblance of a Federal government, but this regime was nearly powerless, especially when, after the Silence began to fade away, off-world raiders and bullies with higher tech began "trading" with Laana and raiding the world, a thing which the "federal" government was simply incapable of stopping.

Stranger things happened on other words. When the Scream hit the Psychic choir upon which Carcosa's metadimensional experiments relied, the world disappeared from normal space, yanked by the dimensional forces into a different reality, or, possibly, into a space between spaces. Only in 3199 it appeared back, in a blinding flash of light easily seen from all nearby worlds, but with it, also came other 'things', which piggybacked on this world back into normal space, otherworldly beings from the space between spaces. The Zadak, insectoid aliens from Chot Zadak, lost their entire psychic Mediator caste to the Scream, then blamed Humanity for the disaster, and scorched the surface of Polychrome in revenge, later retreating to their homeworld with many Human captives to use as slaves.

Several other alien spices came to the Alkonost sector during the Silence, using the opportunity presented by Humanity's fall to prey upon the rotting corpse of the Mandate. The reptilian and anarchic Cicek, the opportunist insectoid Zhuziik and the honorable but vengeful Qotah - all came to pick Humanity's bones. None of them has a homeworld in the Cluster, or even a significant population, but all have invaded the realms of Man and are, even now in modern times, a major factor in it.

But for the most part, the Alkonost Cluster, with its two Sectors (Alkonost and Kedesh), fell into barbarism, savagery and a dark night. Only in 3054, when the world of Kedesh regained TL3 orbital technology, did the Silence begin to fade away.

Coming Soon - Part II - Post-Silence History

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