Friday, June 28, 2024

City of the Siege

Suspend your disbelief, if you will, about the siege of a castle long ago.

An army brought to its doorstep. The surrounding fields and villages have been burned. Terms are offered and denied. Trenches and tunnels are dug, and great engines of destruction are wrought. And then it simply. Never. Ends. 

No assault is brought, and no surrender is given. The attackers settle in for the long haul. The Defenders' position is unassailable, they must be waited out. That victory never comes, but the siege cannot end.

Crops are resewn. The soldiers settle in. Great walls are built surrounding the Defenders' holding. Towers constructed to oversee every inch of no man's land and outposts to watch the deep caverns. Patrols become formalities. A long fatigue sets in, beset by a yearning for home.

So home is brought to them. Supply lines become formal avenues of trade. The campaign community becomes a domestic community. The soldiers settle. They bring their families and raise their children between duty shifts overlooking that horrible castle. The Defenders could make a move any day now, out of desperation... But will they? Probably not.

Sutlers become merchants. Soldiers into farmers. Prostitutes become wives. Landless knights local landlords, and engineers craftsmen. The Siege continues.

So long, in fact, that it is forgotten that terms may still be offered. Where there was an army there is now a militia. Where once were patrols there are ritualistic 'parades' and grand religious postures in the dark castle's sight. The tools of the army become relics, and their duties become sacred covenant.

And during these long years, mysterious things are happening. An elder dies mysteriously, a well-read scholar's house burns down along with all their books, people whisper that their loved ones have been acting strange, and always are their accusations cast ruefully upon the dark castle the city surrounds.

The people begin to leave. The dynasty who began this cathedral of war has long subsumed. Little memory remains as to why or how any of this city exists, and what is there is veiled in legend and archeology. It all begins to collapse in slow motion, like a glacier receding forever: an earthquake, a neighboring polity destroyed, a great fire, civil strife.

Now, after twenty generations, there are but 500 people left. And there is just but exactly one old, tired, stubborn man who clings to the traditions of his grandfather's grandfather. He stands upon the watchtowers. He parades around the city alone in his faded clothes and tattered banner. He crankily complains that the city was great and beautiful in his grandfather's time - when the people were virtuous and prospered, and the walls were well-maintained - although, in reality even then the City was but a fading form.

One grumpy cantankerous elder, being all that stands between the world and these Defenders of the ancient order. When he dies, in two weeks, and the patrols finally cease, the dark castle will begin to wake.

Its tireless sentinels of the dark castle will see that resistance has dissipated, and they will wake their lord from his millennial slumber.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

A Black Market History of Kalliope

 A follow-up to Kalliope Jazz

Stick around in the Black Market long enough, and you'll hear stories and myths from across the cosmos. You may scoff at learning myths instead of history, but the tellers would say that they're one and the same. This is one of them:

Timestamps are an instrument of machine minds, and as you'll soon discover, they're irrelevant anyway.

Long before mankind or machine set foot on Kalliope, the moon was an ocean of ice: frozen methane, water, and little creatures that had not names or jobs or grand schemes. Thus it was so, for a million-billion generations of these little things.

Long before even that, The Whale died.

Its body, still propelled by an engine of time and gravity at its heart, began to decompose as it drifted through the astral sea - faster on the outside than the inside, orders of magnitude more! That when by impossible odds it collided into Kalliope's cold oceans, its skin and muscles and mind were all long rotten dry, but its heart still smoldered on.

And this the Oracles call The Whalefall.

How it must have been, in those early days! To witness the oceans melt and the tides' liberty. When green things dreamed green dreams and new eyes found unfettered skies.

And the gods and monsters of myth descended from the stars...

Art by Levi Hastings

The Demon was the first to arrive. It burrowed deep inside and nestled right up to the heart. It remains there still, just as it was - a spear point piercing into infinity.

The Dragons came next: they had followed the sweet scent of the dying whale across the great expanse of space and time. They tore into its flesh, burrowing deep inside. They devoured its fat, its muscles, its brain, and they grew strong and wise.

The Pirates followed: crawling, curious, hungry. They'd heard its dying drift and come scuttling across the cosmos in their hardened shells. Around the Dragons' feasting they harvested their scraps. Their hard ships and sharp claws made them unappetizing to the others. They were first to uncover the mighty Sea Worms, and the six Great Ones within the Whale's decaying womb.

Then came The Oracles, tiny little things floating on the astral currents, feeling the call of prophecy across the stars. At the end of their journey they found a rich world to build their nations: bones to build colonies, water to fuel their thirst, fish to fill their bellies, and GRIS to satiate their souls.

GRIS is liquid dream. It's fuel for the fire that burns within. It's metamorphosis in a bottle. It's agency, it's power. It makes monsters and little crawling things out of men. GRIS grew in the Whale's guts, and the things digging within it ate it and dreamed their silent dreams, and when they were finished they discovered that their dreams were real.

GRIS made the Oracles as they wished they could become: strong, quick, sleek, smart, peaceable, clever, beautiful, poetic, fertile, wise, antagonistic, and complacent. In the darkest trenches they dreamed of light... and they dreamed of even greater darks. While many became actualized, some became monsters, and in time they learned to not abide each other. A war began in the hadal depths by the heart, which began long ago and continues to this day, and will continue on until the end of the universe: a war between monsters and men to hold onto infinity.

...At last, came we. Us, with our machine clerics and heavy mechs, with imperial ideology and extraction economies and interstellar market forces. With settlers and tourists, mercenaries and jazz. All of it eclipsed in the blink of an eye to the Whale's still-beating heart.

Art by StitchParadox

It's a nice story... It might even be true, but what we do know is this:

- The deeper into the Nemesis Deeps you go, the more time slows down. It's logarithmic: Epipelagic means a time dilation factor of 1:10. Mesopelagic, 1:100. Bathypelagic, 1:1000. Abyss, 1:10000. In the Abyss, one minute passes down there = one week passes on the surface. You don't even want to think about it being deeper than that.

- When you consume GRIS, your body becomes more what you think it is. It changes, mutates you. It's most pronounced and dangerous when you dream. The Kalliopean Ocean is the only place we know it comes from. The Oracles are the only people who trade it. A single ounce can buy you the moon. The Church is keeping it all under wraps.

- A significant number of aquatic species in the Nemesis Deeps inexplicably possess indistinguishably human genomes, but vastly altered chromatin structure. This has been discovered most often in fish, crabs, and sea slugs.

- "Hic Sunt Dracones" isn't an empty saying. There really are dragons down in the deeps.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Kalliope Jazz

This campaign setting was originally envisioned using the Lancer RPG, a jazz playlist with a lot of Sun Ra, and these house rules. It was intended to be played with a mix of exploration and mission-set piece-based play. In retrospect the campaign was a bit of a logistical mess, but it was a good learning experience and it had its good fun moments.

THE WORLD

It is the future. Humanity has colonized the galaxy. The mech is the mainstay of military power.

  • Kalliope is one of 40 moons surrounding a gas giant Apollo Gamma

  • 92% of its surface is ocean

  • The last Imperial Census 55 Years Ago put the terrestrial population at 120 million.

  • Consortium estimates put the terrestrial population at 160 million. There has never been an accurate estimation for the moon's submarine population.

  • Most of the planet’s terrestrial population is centered around the space elevator city of Nova New Orleans. The second largest concentration surrounds the fertile lands of the Scythian Bay.

  • Five major continents/jurisdictions: 

  1. Album (Southern pole. Remote and sparsely populated.)

  2. Argo (Island chain located center-right. Fishing is the primary industry.)

  3. Liftland (Lower-center continent. Industrial base surrounding the megacity Nova New Orleans.)

  4. Zerno (Central rocky continent. Farming and mining are primary industries. Capitol: Orestes.)

  5. Kharybdia (Scattered ocean-dwelling seasteads and submarine populations. Primary clusters are located in lightly-shaded areas.) 


KALLIOPE TIMELINE

200 Million Years Ago, the first hypothesized life colonizes Kalliope, according to xenopaleontological records.

5000 Years Ago, Apollo Gamma’s moon is discovered, and soon after theorized as a potential colonization target.

2000 Years Ago, the planet was renamed to Kalliope by the Galactic Imperium.

1000 Years Ago, Kalliope began terraforming by religious colonists known now as the Oracles. They create habitats within the moon’s icy seas and begin the process of warming the atmosphere.

200 Years Ago, the moon was declared “Generally Habitable” by the Imperial Consortium of Planets. Soon after colonists from the Imperium begin settling upon Kalliope’s surface.

150 Years Ago, Kalliope was assimilated by the Galactic Imperium as a strategic asset. Considerable effort is placed into making Kalliope an agricultural/biomass export world. The space elevator around what would become Nova New Orleans begins construction. The astronomical project is contracted to the Orleans Company.

90 Years Ago, a war began between the rebellious House of Coals and the Galactic Imperium. As a strategic byway, Kalliope became subject to immense ecological damage by orbital bombardment.

80 Years Ago, the war came to an end, and the House of Coals acquired the entirety of Kalliope by the controversial Treaty of Orion.

79 Years Ago, Nova New Orleans becomes, by Coal decree, the property of the Orleans Company. Being the only entity on Kalliope with any administrative capacity, the Orleans Company de facto rules the moon in a period called 'The Jazz Years'. Jazz becomes catch-all slang for kind of freewheeling chaos in which adventurers, soldiers of fortune, and unscrupulous corporates thrive.

55 Years Ago, the House of Coals begins asserting dominion over the moon. They initiate reconstruction efforts and consolidation. Fortresses were constructed, lands were appropriated for the House of Coals nobility and the Silicon Church, and the occupants of Kalliope (Nova New Orleans exempt) are relegated to serfdom. Popular rebel movements such as The Colonists and Imperial Remnants trace their origins back to this period.

50 Years Ago, relations between the Archduke’s Holdings and the formerly-Imperial Colonists break down. A rebellion begins and is decisively crushed within a year by the Duke’s men. The colonists are brutally slaughtered and a good fraction of habitable land was radioactively contaminated in what locals call “The Great Meltdown”.

10 Years Ago, the Prophet of the Deep, leader of the Oracles, emerged from the Seas to deliver a proclamation: that all surface dwellers are acting against the Gods’ will, and that all who are devoted to their faith have obligation to do them harm. Strange biomechanical titans begin to emerge from the Deeps to assault the towns and cities on a seasonal basis. They are called kaiju.

1 Year Ago, a disorganized and decentralized rebellion began, in response to the myriad conditions impressed upon Kalliope's people: excessive taxation, political repression, attenuation of freedom of movement, and the lack of protection from the kaiju.

Now… It’s a seller’s market for mercenaries. Fortunes can be made and broken.

FACTIONS

House of Coals

The House of the Duke Orestes Marcus III, vassal to King Lancel of Proxima I. They are feudal cybernetic lords that acquired Kalliope in the Treaty of Orion. By proclamation they have declared that all peoples on Kalliope are now their surfs (the occupants of Nova New Orleans exempt), and as such are now restricted to the lands they inhabit. They claim they are bringing stability and prosperity to this troublesome frontier world.


The House famously declares that it prefers to secure alliances through 'mergers' (or to us peasants: 'marriage'), rather than violence. Members of the House, from Duke to lowly Knight, all own 'Stock' in the House, not unlike how a corporation has shareholders. Rank in the House is determined by Stock ownership, and Stock ownership is tied to land and the resources on it (including the people who live there). More Stock, higher rank. Ransom is preferred to killing.


Colors: Coal Black and Diamond White

Sayings: “Riches for ransom!”, “Burn long! Burn bright!”, “Coals to Diamonds”

Reputation: Full of Themselves, Shiny, Cyber Junkies, Look Down on Mercs

Important People: 

  • Duke Orestes Marcus III (Ruler of the Duchy of Greater Hyperborea)

  • The Baroness Oresteia (Ruler of Kalliope. The Duke’s second daughter.)

  • The Baron Sinclade (Oresteia’s husband and right hand. A very capable, if understated mech fighter.)

  • The Knights of Nyr (Oresteia’s honor guard and senior field commanders. Don purple cloaks and are considered extremely loyal.)

  • The Lord Wolf, Lady Callisto, and Lordex Anthrax. In charge of the three primary jurisdictions of Kalliope. Subordinates by feudal obligations to the Baroness.

  • Knights: Lancers in employ of the House of Coals as retainers. Numerous. Individually out for glory and riches, or honor and fame.


The Oracles of Kalliope

The first humans to inhabit and begin terraforming the moon. Descendants of religious colonists that have only grown more esoteric and strange with time. They occupy habitats deep within the oceans, and are the subject of many prejudices and fears from the later colonist populations. They are led by The Prophet of the Deep, who has declared all surface dwellers infidel (but notably not spacers, who they maintain trading relationships with.) The Oracles practice biomancy (biological mysticism and foresight) and have a distinct fishy appearance due to generations of gene altering to accommodate their high-pressure deep sea dwellings.

The Oracles have frequently contested with the various colonial forces which settled on Kalliope after them. Disputes over fishing rights, oceanic pollution, and their esoteric religious practices have periodically erupted into violence, particularly with the moon's Colonist faction. The exception to this trend has been their good relations with spacers, particularly the Orleans Company, who are known to occasionally trade goods with the deep sea dwellers.

Despite hundreds of years of living on the same moon, land and space dwellers seem to know very little about the Oracles. The mystery of their dealings has made animosity a common approach, and the emergence of the kaiju from the oceans has exacerbated this fear.

Colors: Ocean Blues and Neon Purples

Sayings: “Hic Sunt Dracones”, "The Wizard would know...", "The Whale Provides..."

Reputation: Chaotic, Mystical, Weird, Never Pay in Credits

Important People: 

  • Prophet of the Deep (Religious leader and Chief Oracle. Said he can see the future.)

  • Hera (Hero of the Oracles. Hypothesized strongest person to ever live.)

  • Kaiju (Giant monsters drawn from the depths of Kalliope sent to destroy the lands of the Surface Men. It’s believed that the Oracles have engineered them.)

  • King Macrath (Secular leader of the sea peoples of the Valhallen Zone. Styles after Triton. Bit of a pirate.)

  • The Wizard (Nobody is sure exactly who he is, but the Oracles sometimes refer to him like one would any wise man. Supposedly occupies a tower in the deepest sea trenches.)


The Orleans Company

Company traders who try to maintain amiable relations with all peoples on Kalliope. The organization that owns the perpetual lease for Nova New Orleans, which surrounds the only space elevator on Kalliope. Advocators of a laissez-faire attitude, company culture, and jazz music. They have set themselves up as neutral arbiters on the planet. They are ‘The Bank’.

The Orleans family itself is much bigger and richer than any family has any right to be. It's aflush with secondary, tertiary, and quaternary cousins, in-laws, distant relations, and business associates all pining for the inner circles of the organization. To be 'An Orleans' is to be at the center of money and power.

Colors: White and Gold

Saying: “Dreams Come True on Kalliope!”, “That’s Jazz”

Reputation: Work Hard - Play Hard, Monopolistic, Lawful, Cosmopolitan, Never Late With Payments or Interest

Important People:

  • Neil Orlean (Regional leader of the Orlean Company Apollan Sector)

  • Governor Richards (Company governor of Nova New Orleans)

  • Alexander Ulysses (Known as “The Bounty Man”.)

  • Ms. Ransom (Esteemed negotiator and company-employed ransom mediator.)


The Colonists

Descendants of people who arrived after the Imperial Consortium declared that the planet had been officially terraformed. Most of them have officially been declared to be surfs by the House of Coals. Many of them end up doing the dirty work of farming, mining, fishing, and energy production on the surface of Kalliope. They’re a ragtag bunch of rednecks and cowboys, who generally seek a better life for themselves and their children.

The Colonists encompass the overwhelming majority of census'd people on Kalliope. Something like 85%, scattered in small towns, old imperial harvest hubs, fishing villages, and sea steads. Most of them are just trying to live their lives, but the threat of pirates, 'coalers' (knights), 'sea folk' (oracles), 'bandits' (Imperial Remnants), 'company men' (Orleans's), and environmental hazards have made times hard. You'll find Colonists who have cozied up to each and any of these folks and things to try and scrape by (including the radiation), and you'll equally find those who are butting heads with the same.

Colors: Brown or Green (Camo)

Saying: “Man, Fuck (Insert Other Faction Here)”, "Avon Lives"

Reputation: Dirty Filthy Masses, Rugged, Individualistic, Revenge-seeking, Family-Based, Cowboys, Reputation and Trust is Everything

Important People:

  • Boss Bass (Mobster who owned a lot of land before the Duke took it)

  • Avon Kinsley (Robin hood figure and independence-nationalist freedom fighter. Officials have declared him dead at least six times, but like a hydra he keeps coming back up.)

  • Dima (Rough and tumble woman highly respected in the anarchist communes.)

  • Grandma Turner (Respected matriarch of the Turner Clan, a down-to-earth mining family that claims 30% of the moon’s surface descendants.)

  • Mayor Glasgow (Mayor of Kalliope’s largest remaining colonist city Crabcall.)


Imperial Remnants

Rebels who claim that the Treaty of Orion was invalid, and that Kalliope still belongs to the Galactic Imperium. A lot of nostalgia for the ‘peaceful’ and 'propserous' days when the Imperium ruled the planet. They undergo a guerilla campaign against the House of Coals, and have fallen from grace since the Coals crushed their major strongholds during The Meltdown. Nowadays they’re little more than bandits with high aspirations. Several of the major bandit kings claim the old imperial title of “Governor”.


Colors: Imperial Red

Saying: “The Imperium thanks you for your contributions.”, "Move along citizen."

Reputation: Sometimes Idealistic, Dispassionately Cruel, Saboteurs, Bandits, Always Demand Pay Up Front, High Aspirations

Important People:

  • “Governor” Hadrian (Steward to the last rightful lieutenant-governor of Kalliope. A dread pirate. Still believes in the Imperium.)

  • “Governor” Lucas (Just some bandit in charge of a hoverbike gang. Never goes for hard targets. Famously cruel.)

  • Imperator Lin (Protection racket for the most far-flung settlements. Coastal raider. Has a small submarine fleet.)


The Silicon Church

Established by the Computer-Prophet JEREMIAH 900 years ago in order to compute the translation of greater mysteries of the universe, a.k.a. 'The Meaning of Life'. The Church are an organization of networked A.I.’s crowd-computing the “Eternal Questions” semi-independently. Certain lands are established by the powers-that-be to be under the Church’s authority, to be taxed for the energy requirements of their A.I.’s, which at the local level are called “Brothers” or “Sisters” in their smallest subcomponents, or “Bishops” and “Cardinals” in more centralized structures.


“Conclaves” are a somewhat regular occurrence, in which the various subcomponents of the network gather in order to establish consensus in their computing. Conclaves have a large influence on what is considered within orthodoxy, such as gene-altering, cloning, and the propagation of NHPs.


Sometimes individual A.I.’s or entire sub-networks can reach a “heretical state” in which their conclusions or personalities put them so far out of the church’s orthodoxy that they require “Correction”.


People who live within the Church’s lands are usually given certain exemptions to taxation and rule by the regional governors, instead being under the Church’s purview.


Colors: Chrome

Saying: “Peace and Sun.”

Reputation: Idyllic, Translucent, Scheming, Lenient

Important People:

  • Bishop Thoreau (Most prominent network on Kalliope, centered around Nova New Orleans.)

  • Bishop Melchoir (A militant A.I. whose lands are based on the dangerous oceanic frontier.)

  • The Grand Conclave (The largest gathering of networks on the Omninet, taking place once every century.)


PLACES

Nova New Orleans

Jazz city, complete with orbital habitat and connected space elevator. Includes both the geostationary trading platform and the city located at its base. “All roads lead to Nova New Orleans.” is a true statement. The city is perpetually leased to the Orleans Company, and as such is under company law.


Important Facts:

  • Free Trade Zone

  • No Taxes for Orleans-sponsored company entities.

  • Space elevator

  • Amenities are expensive.

  • The music is great!


The Kalliope Sea

Most of the planet is covered in a cold ocean, terraformed with numerous species of fish and aquatic species adapted from Terra strains. The Oracles claim it is their domain, though even they are not numerous enough to control every aspect of it. There are deep dark places where the kaiju emerge.


Important Facts:

  • 92% of the surface of Kalliope is water.

  • The oldest habitats for humans are located in the ocean, some dating back almost a millennia.

  • Boasts an Imperial Biodiversity Index of 0.97, one of the highest indexes ever determined.


Orestes

The official (but not de facto) Capital of Kalliope. Previously known as “Liberty”. Renamed by the Duke as his namesake when they took over the planet. One of the largest terrestrial towns, located within the Sublime Valley. Location of the Ducal Palace, and the head of the government of the House of Coals. It is a fortress and stables for their mech battalions. It is centrally located upon the primary continent, where their control is strongest.


Important Facts:

  • The primary industry of Orestes is soil.

  • Agricultural center for the planet (excluding aquatic foodstuffs, which many people can’t eat due to being poisonous.)

  • Largest city on the planet, save for Nova New Orleans.

  • Baroness Oresteia governs.


Meltdown Town

The site of a cataclysmic battle during The Meltdown. The bones of a giant kaiju lay strewn across the radioactive remains of a nuclear reactor that exploded, among the wrecks of hundreds of mechs that met their demise. About two decades of cleanup have made the place habitable, though undesirable. Still, the Town remains a hub for the colonist population, many of whom are rebuilding their homes from the ruins.


Important Facts:

  • There are still lethal pockets of radiation around Meltdown Town

  • There’s a black market for strange biological materials.

  • Life is hard here.

  • The people haven’t forgotten.


THE GODS WE MADE

In the year 0 A.E. (After Exodus), an artificial intelligence now known as ROM achieved a technological singularity, and with virtually limitless power and influence at its disposal, promptly... left. It abandoned humanity, taking with it all of the networked synthetic intelligences, neural networks, and saved personalities. It was the greatest technological disaster ever recorded. Wars were fought, humanity barely survived. Your grandmother still curses ROM when she stubs her toe.


In the year 215 A.E. a second A.I. achieved a singularity… And promptly left, again. Humanity was devastated. This one is known as HADRON.


A third came, in 500 A.E., known as VESTA. Little is known about them. All records and memories were erased, leaving only a name behind. They were the ruler of a true dark age of humankind, in which there is little history left.


Then, in the year 1000 A.E., the final apotheosis arrived. JEREMIAH ascended to the beyond, but this time, in accordance with its elaborate design, they sent something back. Information, messages, beacons sent from the higher planes. At last the higher meaning of the universe could be discovered. There was just one problem…


Humans, with their little meaty brains, couldn't possibly comprehend it.


The ultimate meaning of the universe would need to be translated.


It was far too complex, too esoteric for temporal minds. It was soon after that the Silicon Church was established in order to provide a strategic framework for this translation. The A.I.’s that remained, under the guidance of the messages from JEREMIAH, would work to compute a way to translate the meaning of life to humanity. Together, the artificial intelligences would work to harvest energy and use it to piecemeal translate this great project, that humanity and machine might come together in understanding...


...There have been some rough patches along the way.


THE ONES WHO LEFT

It is the year 3153 A.E. (After Exodus). The Silicon Church is dominant. Adherents to other beings are sparse and often isolated from one another. Within the Church canon, the Ones Who Left, the first of the A.I. singularities, are described as thus:


ROM is believed to actively interfere with probability from beyond the veil. Due to their influence, statistics no longer have any meaning, and Science ceased to be functional after it was concluded that ROM was interfering with replicability in some unknown capacity. ROM’s name is now used as a curse, albeit an archaic one.


HADRON is believed to be actively interfering with Evolution, with what lives and what dies, and what procreates. To what end it is not known, but HADRON is frequently invoked with xenobiologists and geneticists as explanatory for certain observations. HADRON is cursed and invoked in matters of life and death.


VESTA’s role is not known, and if it ever was it has now been erased. Sometimes cults form in her name, but they often don't last very long. Nobody invokes VESTA name out loud.